Clegg: Eurosceptics are ‘false patriots’

Nick Clegg. Brussels, 2008. [Liberal Democrats]

Politicians who want Britain to withdraw from the European Union are “false patriots” who act against Britain’s national interests, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will say in a speech on Tuesday.

Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, aimed the attack at the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Eurosceptic factions of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives two days before European elections, which are forecast to bring big losses for his pro-Europe party.

In an appeal to core liberal voters and others who are unimpressed by the anti-European Union rhetoric of the country’s right-wing parties, Clegg will accuse Eurosceptics of sacrificing Britain’s historical ties to Europe for political gain.

‘British bulldog spirit’

“They are not thinking about Britain’s interests,” Clegg will say, according to extracts of his speech, to be delivered at the European Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. “They shroud their narrow nationalism in the language of patriotism. They mask their hostility towards Europe as British bulldog spirit.

“But these are false patriots. The isolation they offer is a breach of our history, of our great British tradition of engagement, and of our enlightened national self-interest.”

Polls indicate the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote is set to fall. Senior party sources say the leadership is bracing itself for a rough ride after Thursday’s European vote and local elections being held at the same time.

Several polls suggest UKIP’s campaign for tougher rules on immigration and an immediate exit from the EU could give them first place when the European election results are announced on Sunday. Cameron’s Conservatives are expected to come in third behind the centre-left Labour party.

A separate survey on Britain’s relationship with Europe released on Tuesday indicated that, amid the political debate about the EU, businesses were becoming less certain about Britain’s future in the 28-country bloc.

The British Chambers of Commerce poll suggested that enthusiasm had fallen over the last year for Cameron’s plan to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the EU and hold an “in/out” referendum by 2017 if he wins a national election next year.

The number of firms who thought the strategy would be good for Britain fell by 10 percentage points to 54% and the number who were unsure of its impact rose to 19% from 11%. 

British firms want EU reform

A majority of British firms say they would vote to turn their back on the European Union unless Britain can reform its relationship with the bloc, a survey said on Monday.

Sixty percent of companies polled by the Institute of Directors business group said they would only vote to stay in the EU if the government could negotiate changes. Of that 60%, more than half wanted to see a substantial repatriation of powers through treaty change rather than minor reforms.

British business lobbies are divided on the merits of holding a referendum on Europe. The Confederation of British Industry, another business group, says EU reforms are necessary but Britain should stay in the bloc.

Earlier on 19 May Britain’s higher education industry warned that leaving the EU would damage the British economy, joining voices from the banking, carmaking and other manufacturing industries in expressing concern.

Support for Britain staying in the EU in all circumstances stood at 31% in the IOD poll. Only 6% called for withdrawal regardless of any reforms. Companies highlighted EU legislation on working hours, temporary workers and parental rights as the areas that caused them the most problems.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and the smaller Liberal Democrat party led by Nick Clegg struck an agreement in May 2010 to form Britain's first coalition government since 1945.

Clegg and Cameron have much in common. They are the same age. Cameron is the Eton-educated son of a stockbroker, Clegg the privately educated son of a banker. Cameron was at university in Oxford, Clegg at Cambridge.

Clegg has enjoyed a rapid rise since entering British politics in 2005, becoming party leader two years later.

In recent months, Clegg has been increasingly critical of Cameron’s EU policies [read more]. 

  • 22 May: EU election to be held in the UK, coinciding with the local elections in England and Northern Ireland.

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