Clegg warns ‘Brexit’ threat no way to negotiate EU reforms

Nick Clegg . British Museum, January. [Cabinet Office/Flickr]

Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to renegotiate Britain's ties with the European Union are wishful thinking and likely to yield only minor concessions that will not unite his governing Conservative party, his coalition partner will warn on Friday (9 May).

In a speech at Thomson Reuters in London, Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, will launch one of his strongest critiques of Cameron's Europe policy so far as he unveils his own ideas for reform and sets out the case for Britain to remain inside the 28-nation bloc.

"The Conservative leadership has spent the last three years ducking and weaving, looking for a way out," Clegg will say, according to advance extracts from his speech.

"David Cameron started with grand plans for the repatriation of powers, then he shifted ground. None of this has anything to do with the real issues - the need for a more competitive EU - it's all about managing internal Conservative party divisions."

The robust nature of Clegg's criticism is likely to cause tensions within Britain's two-party coalition government ahead of European elections later this month. Clegg's party, the Liberal Democrats, are the junior partner to the Conservatives, and polls suggest they could come fourth in the vote.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which campaigns for Britain to leave the EU, is likely to poll ahead of both parties fighting it out for first place with the opposition Labour party.

Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's EU ties and to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to stay or remain inside the EU in 2017.

But Clegg, whose party has styled itself as Britain's most pro-EU force, will say the strategy is doomed.

Agreement possible on 'various minor opt outs'

"You cannot secure a new settlement for Britain through a one off negotiation conducted under the threat of exit," Clegg, 47, will say at a Reuters Newsmaker event in its London headquarters in Canary Wharf on Friday.

"He'll be able to agree various minor opt outs and exemptions for Britain with other European leaders. But we wouldn't let the French or Germans pick and choose the bits of the Single Market they like, so the idea that they would do the same for us is wishful thinking."

Cameron has so far garnered only limited backing for his plans among other EU states and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out the prospect of a far-reaching overhaul of the bloc's treaties.

The opposition Labour party opposes Cameron's idea of a referendum, saying it creates uncertainty and discourages foreign investment in Britain.

Clegg, a Cambridge-educated former member of the European Parliament who speaks five languages, will urge Cameron to change tack, suggesting the only way to achieve reform is at the negotiating table.

"You fight Britain's corner effectively not by going on a whistlestop tour of Europe's capitals, a list of make-or-break demands in hand," Clegg will say.

"You do it by engaging with our neighbours, forging alliances with like-minded states and winning the argument."

Clegg, whose party, some pollsters have predicted, could lose all its member of the European Parliament, will argue that Cameron's attempts to appease his own backbench lawmakers who want to leave the EU has trapped the prime minister.

"David Cameron has set himself on a collision course with his backbenchers because, no matter what repatriation package he negotiates, it will never be enough to satisfy them," Clegg will say.

Clegg, who has good relations with the 47-year-old prime minister with whom he has shared power since 2010, said Cameron had sought to tone down his demands to propose changes that would not require difficult-to-get EU treaty change.

Unveiling his own 10-point plan to reform the EU, Clegg said the Liberal Democrats would push for changes to the EU budget, cuts to red tape, less waste and for more devolved powers for national parliaments.

"Europe should do more of what it's good at, less of what it isn't," Clegg will say.



A Londoner's picture

What a contrast in approach between Nick Clegg in his debate with Nigel Farage and Guy Verhofstadt in the recent Maastrict debate. Whilst Verhofstadt put forward a logical case for "ever closer union" and the EU - European defence forces etc, etc. Clegg merely put forward a case for international cooperation.

He argued that no country can exist in isolation and has to co-operate with others. True. And he pointed out implicitly that moving from one set of treaty relationships to another presents difficulty. True. But it is perfectly possible to accept that and still question the UK's membership of the EU.

Clegg was forced into his defence by the political reality of the UK that there is very little support for the EU as a political project. We are out of the Euro for ever, it will be difficult to win any referendum, we ignore the EP, etc etc.

That being the case I wonder why the British euro-federalists do not fall on their swords. They believe in a federal Europe but that will never emerge whilst the UK remains . Should they not accept reality, help negotiate an exit for the UK and wave goodbye to Guy de V on his journey? For the greater good?

evad666's picture

" Clegg, who has good relations with the 47-year-old prime minister with whom he has shared power since 2010, said Cameron had sought to tone down his demands to propose changes that would not require difficult-to-get EU treaty change." here we go again the political classes are all busy buying into property on the Continent at public expense. Let us not forget Mrs Clegg has an EU job. This suggests self interest drives Glegg's position on Europe.

evad666's picture

Vivian Reding wants the UK to make an informed choice on Europe yet the EU and its supporters have offered no data or information .
The EU has lost the hearts and minds here in the UK through a lack of information.
UKIP are the only ones talking with the electorate.

an european's picture

the hellevader kan kip votin' ukip ! "The faster the better" !
seems to be their slogan
The european Union don't need Britania . Farage and his Londinium should better be isolated outside ! Still inimaginable how the E.U. still pays Farage and his Comrades ! What a waste of money for no committement...

Barry's picture

I see an european is still peddling his nonsense, UKIP actually have a better attendance record than most of the foreigners in the parliament. you don't want our money good we'll spend it on us and you can have your citizens back who are causing instability in the labour market. what a waste of money being in the eussr is a parliament that has no power unelected failed politicians running everything and brain dead lowest common denominator one size fits all regulations spewing out of it waved through by the automatons with no consideration as to the outcome.