Farage wins BBC debate, on track for electoral gain

Nick Clegg (left) and Nigel Farage [Liberal Democrats; European Parliament / Flickr]
Nick Clegg (left) and Nigel Farage [Liberal Democrats; European Parliament / Flickr]

In an election debate on the BBC, eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage beat the liberal and pro-European Nick Clegg, with applause lines that Britain should “free itself” from the EU.

The debate, which took place on Wednesday evening (2 April), pitched Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg against Nigel Farage, party leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

At the core of the discussion: should the UK be in or out of the EU? Clegg, deputy prime minister of the British government, is leading a pro-Europe campaign for the upcoming elections on 22 May, while Farage represents the most anti-European party in the country's political landscape.

“If you put a referendum [on Britain’s membership of the EU] today, a majority clearly would say no,” Farage kicked off the debate. “The best people to govern Britain, are the British.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” Clegg answered. “We can’t have all the benefits of the EU [when we are] outside of it. In an uncertain world, there is strength in numbers. That is why we should remain in the EU.”

The United Kingdom has seen a peak in criticism of its EU membership over the past years. Voices like Farage have argued that the EU costs them money (the country contributes more to the EU budget than it gets out of it in funding) and is democratically illegitimate.

The Conservatives, in coalition government with Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, has promised a referendum over the UK’s membership to be held in 2017, if their membership isn’t renegotiated on British terms.

UK business pro-EU membership

The UK’s official figures show that exports of the country to other member states account for half of all British exports, corresponding to a total of €185 billion.

British financial and business representatives have repeatedly warned politicians on the economic consequences of leaving the EU. Recently, a report commissioned by the country’s car industry estimated that 92% of automotive companies thinks that staying in the EU is best for their business – a figure gladly referred to by Clegg in the debate.

“How do you stand up for reform if you simply want to walk away?” the Liberal Democrat challenged Farage on his demand to exit the EU. “Time and time again, British MEPs have the opportunity to defend British interest.”

“Working together with others is not a bad thing. It strengthens us – not weakens us,” Clegg added. “You have to get people to invest in your country [...] and make sure there are jobs.”

But British voters’ prime concerns, like immigration of workers from Eastern European countries or the perceived lack of control over the EU institutions’ law making, yielded more applause for the populist Farage, who hammered home the issue of powers shifting to Brussels.

“What really matters at the end of the day, isn’t what I think, but what the British public thinks,” Farage said. “They should be given a fair referendum. But the political class doesn’t want to because they think you might give the wrong answer.”

Clegg counter-attacked that anti-European campaigning is based on “fantasies” and “scaremongering”, saying “we should make the best of our EU membership; not always seek to destroy it.”

Polls point to Farage as winner

In a poll conducted yesterday evening by The Guardian, up to 69% of respondents selected Nigel Farage as the winner. A survey by pollster YouGov showed that 68% selected the UKIP leader as the winner.

The BBC face-off was the second time these two British politicians faced each other in a televised debate. On 26 March, Clegg and Farage discussed the topic of EU membership in a debate organised by the London-based radio station LBC.

The debate marks the start of weeks of fierce campaigning over the future of Britain in the EU. Latest polls have UKIP, which is campaigning to get the UK out of the European Union, second at 20 seats, while the Labour party is topping the polls with 27 seats. The governing Conservative party could come in only third with 18 seats; their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, are at 2 seats.

The question is whether latest news related to Farage's alleged tax evasion might impact his campaign. According to The Guardian, Farage is using a private company to reduce his tax bill on his media appearances. The UKIP leader diverts money from appearances in the media and on the lecture circuit into a firm called Thorn In The Side Ltd.

Presidential debates kick-start campaign

Televised debates are commonplace in many European member states, but were first organised in the UK only in 2010. The Conservatives and the Labour party – the two largest parties in the country – have shown caution in commiting to debates in the run-up to European elections.

Next May’s vote also introduce ‘presidential debates’ on a European level. All lead candidates of pan-European political parties, who serve as candidates to become the next EU Commission president, will face each other in three debates, so far.

The two most likely contenders for the lead position in the European Union, German socialist Martin Schulz and Luxembourg conservative Jean-Claude Juncker, will also go head to head in at least three televised debates in the coming weeks.

Pan-European polling data, released on Wednesday by the organisation PollWatch, showed the Party of European Socialist (PES) and the centre-right European People’s Party in a tie at 212 seats for the next EU Parliament. The party that wins most seats is likely to put forward their candidate for the EU Commission presidency. 

  • 22 May: EuropeanParliament elections in the United Kingdom
  • 22-25 May: European parliament elections in all 28 EU member states
  • 18 Sept. 2014: Scottish independence referendum
  • May 2015: UK to hold general election
  • 2017: EU membership referendum proposed by David Cameron
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the Englishman's picture

Well there's no surprise there then! The thing is the future of the EU is really in the hands of the third rate MEP's and the dictatorial unelected commissioners. If they wanted to they could quite easly make the EU more palatable for the British people. In fact they could make the EU more palatable for the whole of the EU, because lets face it, the Golrious EU is NOT universally loved across Europe. I would only point to the rise of the far right political parties in the few countries that pay in to the EU Budget that keep the EU going for the rest who take back every penny they put in, and some!
I see the EU as King Canute. The rise of the far right is a problem caused by the EU and a problem made by the EU. The EU has to change. Everyone see it except the EU!

Iwantout's picture

I accept Nick Clegg believes passionately in the EU and he is obviously here as the cheer leader for British engagement with the EU.

But it was extremely revealing when at 51:45 mins into the broadcast the debaters were asked “What will the EU be like in 10 years ?”

Clegg response was “I suspect it will be quite similar to what it is now.” So even the EU’s greatest pro EU leader in the UK could not bring himself to say to the public that there might be any more integration or Progress towards ‘ever greater union’.

I wonder what his partners in the EU make of his need to continue the deception. Should he not just have said 'there will be ' the existing move within the EZ towards federalisation in practice will continue and accelerate. All the countries except Denmark and the UK will be increasingly pressured to join the euro. Many more decisions being taken at the European level and the needs of those countries outside the euro will continue, as they are today, being ignored.' The trouble is that whilst this is true it is so highly toxic he dare not even consider it

an european's picture

@ Iwantout

I agree with you
If i were Mr Clegg i give me response on the question about what will Europe be in future !
" A light federal & united Europe " was the right answer !
but of course no one can predict @ 100% what the future reserves !

Actually this Europe is tzo much focused in selfi(sh)-nterestin' of member-states leaders!

What we already know is that only united we are strong so and i think that no one can disagree with this ! Not even our beloved Nigel Farage!

The other thing is that Europe needs a British President like Tony Blair said in 2009 and thus from EU citizens to be elected!

an european's picture

I mean Europe needs an neutral E.U. President elected from citizens like Tony Blair said in 2009!

an european's picture

@ the Englishman

"The rise of the far right is a problem caused by the EU!"
No ! by it's own frustrated people ..Gert Wilders : " Less Marrocains ..hmm .. Yes we will tackle .."
FN ..desislamation ..Yes we will tackle ...
Ukip ... " the same ...
Such sentences are the defection of high nationalistic relict during globalism!

About Nigel Farage i ve to told him why an European army is a problem ??
So does the European Union not have the right to defend itself against threats adequately or is that again only reserved for the a "commonwealth" Status Quo !