As the EU summit broke up without agreement, David Cameron acknowledged that there had been attempts by many of the other EU members to “put Britain in a box and do a deal without (us).”

But by the end he had company and was not alone, boasting of other contributor countries who stood shoulder to shoulder with his bid for tighter EU budget, particularly Sweden and the Netherlands.

David Cameron swung the Thatcher handbag in his press conference and clouted European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso squarely on the head with it. He accused the commission president of being on a parallel universe and insulting European taxpayers by failing to come up with a single euro in saving in the proposals brought forward last night. He said “not enough effort has been made” on looking for budget cuts in areas outside cohesion funds and agriculture.

He refused all attempts to be pinned down on exactly what constitutes the EU budget freeze he insists is still his bottom line but it does sound like by the end of the talks the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy was coming within touching distance of the sort of numbers David Cameron has in mind. The danger for David Cameron now is that other countries dig in and re-form their opposition to Britain but that seems unlikely with the all-powerful Angela Merkel as some kind of sympathiser and protector.

Very few budget summits manage to get the numbers lined up successfully at the first attempt. This one is no exception. It’s not a seismic failure and if the relatively subdued blame game can be kept low key there’s a good chance of a deal in the new year.

For David Cameron it’s an awful lot better than some of the other outcomes that have looked plausible at different points in the run-up to this summit. He’s got Brussels-bashing headlines, taken a swipe at the chief bureaucrat and not conceded a deal that his backbenchers can unpick. Most importantly, he’s not completely isolated. Another summit where Europe lined up 26 against 1 and there would’ve been euphoria in the Tory ranks but serious questions elsewhere in the Coalition and beyond about what journey Britain was on.

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