AFTER more than 25 hours of haggling, little sleep, lots of coffee and an unhealthy supply of Haribo sweets, David Cameron emerged from his Brussels talks to hail the first- ever cut in European Union spending as a deal Britain "can be proud of".
Yet while the agreement on the 2014-2020 budget will see a real-terms cut of £29 billion on the current budget and is £67bn lower than what the European Commission had initially wanted, the UK's net contribution will still rise.
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, who was last month praised by Conservative eurosceptics for his promise of an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, will receive more plaudits on Monday in the Commons when he makes a statement on the Belgian summit to MPs.
Apart from the 3.5% budget cut, the political significance of the deal was that Germany sided with the UK and not with France. The French media described President Francois Hollande, who was pushing for a budget increase, as the loser in the talks.
After the second tortuous attempt at a deal, Mr Cameron emerged yesterday afternoon with a big smile and told reporters: "The British public can be proud we have cut the seven-year credit card limit for the European Union for the first time ever."
The agreement will mean the seven-year EU budget will be £768bn, a cut of £29bn from the current £797bn. Originally, the European Commission had been pressing for a rise of £38bn.
The fiscally conservative northern European members, led by Britain and Germany, had battled for a budget cut and for more money to be spent on research and investment, while the southern European members, led by France and Italy, wanted a budget increase and maintenance of funding for infrastructure and agriculture.
Asked about claims he was isolated in Europe, the Mr Cameron admitted he had been isolated when he alone rejected a treaty change at a summit 14 months ago, but said he was not now. "Nobody comes to summits wanting to be on their own, having to stand up without allies. That was necessary in December 2011; I could not get the safeguards I wanted [against economic interference in the UK].
"No-one should be frightened about isolation but you should always try to work with allies to make sure taxpayers get the best deal," he said.
Nick Clegg, who has not seen eye-to-eye with his Coalition partner on many EU issues, including the in-out referendum, said he was "delighted" with the deal, saying it was the right one for Britain and Europe. "Both the Prime Minister and I have always been clear it was simply not right for the EU budget to go up when cuts are having to be made at home," said the Deputy Prime Minister.
"Every country in Europe is having to take tough decisions at home, and it is only right in these difficult times the European Union also cuts its cloth accordingly," he added.
For Labour, Douglas Alexander welcomed the deal, pointing out his party had voted to give Mr Cameron a mandate to seek a real-terms cut. "We called not only for a reduction but also reform of the EU budget", said the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
"The EU had an opportunity to focus the budget on growth and jobs and it will be a matter of deep regret if that was not achieved. But we will continue to scrutinise the details as they emerge."
The deal has to be ratified by the European Parliament. Its president, Martin Schulz, announced the vote would be by secret ballot to prevent governments from pressuring their MEPs to support the Brussels agreement.
The four largest political groups have said they "cannot accept it as it stands because it is not in the interests of Europe's citizens".