David Cameron's Phantom Veto

05/02/2012 23:10 GMT | Updated 06/04/2012 10:12 BST

After the last EU Council meeting in December, David Cameron was given a hero's welcome on his return by Tory MPs. However the mood of the House of Commons and his backbenchers has dramatically changed since then as it became clear that the much trumpeted "veto" didn't in fact stop anything from going ahead and left Britain weaker, not stronger, in Europe.

After flouncing out of the room on that fateful December night, Cameron sought to reassure his backbenchers by claiming that he would play tough with the new group of the 25 from which he was to be left out. He said he would stop the new group from using the institutions of the EU to enforce the terms of the fiscal compact and there was even a suggestion at one stage that the British government would stop the signatories from using the buildings themselves. Even up until the day before the summit, the welfare secretary said, and could not have been clearer, that the prime minister had "...vetoed them using the institutions... ". Yet less than 24 hours later it became clear that these promises would not be delivered. Under Article 273 of the Lisbon Treaty, the new group will be allowed to use the European Court of Justice, the Commission and the buildings.

Having lost the leverage he claimed to have, he sought another avenue. The PM threatened to take legal action against other the grouping of the 25 if the regular eurozone-plus meetings stray into areas of concern to the wider European Union - such as the single market. However, without having secured even Observer Status in these future meetings, he was forced to admit that he would have to rely on the European Commission - a body he has himself criticised in the past - to be the only line of defence in protecting British interests in meetings he would not even have to be told were taking place.

The Prime Minister's discomfort at the dispatch box last Tuesday did not get much coverage in the press. Conveniently for him, the decision to strip Fred Goodwin of his peerage was announced at exactly the same time as Cameron was making his statement to the House about the European Council. Some would say that this timing was coincidental - but whatever the intention - the failure of Cameron's strategy in Europe has been exposed and will continue to damage British interests long past the headlines of this week's papers.