LONDON — Serious cracks appeared in Britain's coalition government Sunday, when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, broke with the government line and said he was "bitterly disappointed" at the outcome of last week's European summit meeting.
Clegg told the BBC that the decision by Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, to veto proposed European treaty changes left Britain in danger of being "isolated and marginalized" in Europe.
Cameron vetoed the proposals early Friday after seeking, and failing to secure, safeguards he said were vital for the health of London's financial sector. But with the 26 other members of the European Union either agreeing to the proposed plan outright or saying they would put the matter before their Parliaments, Cameron's veto left Britain alone on the margins at a time of great upheaval on the continent, with the EU struggling to resolve its financial crisis.
On Friday, Clegg appeared to support the decision, although he warned the Conservative Party's anti-Europe wing against being too triumphant about the problems facing the EU. But his stance hardened over the weekend, and on Sunday he appeared to have backtracked, or at least tried to finesse his explanation to show that it was in line with his party's pro-Europe principles.
In fact, Clegg told the BBC that when Cameron called him at 4 a.m. Friday with the news that Britain had vetoed the plan: "I said this was bad for Britain. I made it clear that it was untenable for me to welcome it." Clegg has already lost the confidence of many Liberal Democrats by appearing to betray the party's position when he has supported the government on other issues, like increasing the amount of tuition colleges can charge.
Cameron is to make a statement today in Parliament on the veto.