By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron began the EU budget summit with two aims.
- To avoid being blamed for any budget settlement by his Euro-sceptic rebel backbenchers, who would have been satisfied with nothing less than both a smaller budget and a cut in Britain's contribution – neither of which were on, let alone together.
- To avoid being blamed for any summit break-up by the EU institutions and other EU countries, in a repetition of the "isolation" in which Britain found itself after he exercised his veto almost exactly a year ago.
Today, he has achieved both his objectives.
There is no deal, so he doesn't face the prospect of another rebel-Labour alliance defeating him in the Commons.
But there is no isolation either, because Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Finland and Denmark weren't happy with the proposed deal either (at least according to the Prime Minister).
Which stuffs Labour, whose position appears to be that the EU should unanimously have cut its budget and reached agreement. Risible.
And this time round, the Liberal Democrats can't blame Mr Cameron for using Britain's veto, because he didn't. Excellent. His critics should admit that he has played his hand skilfully,
Goodness knows where this leaves the budget. Perhaps the Prime Minister will find himself cornered next year – and perhaps not.
However, it's pretty clear where it leaves debate about the EU in Britain, as the noise and alarms of the summit fade away.
If there had been an agreement, it would almost certainly have not been in our interests. But since there hasn't been, we can complain, correctly, of the institutional sclerosis of the EU.
The simple fact is that the momentum towards renegotiation and a referendum of some kind have taken a few modest steps forward tonight. Or more than a few.