Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister in the current coalition government, has spoken on the matter of EU membership ahead of the coming election. Clegg said that leaving the EU would be an act of “self-harm” for the UK from an economic standpoint, and would put the country’s process of recovery from the financial crisis in jeopardy.
Clegg made the comments while speaking at an event in Abingdon in Oxfordshire Abingdon is a key seat previously taken from the Lib Dems by their Conservative coalition colleagues. The Liberal Democrats are hoping to reclaim the seat, with Clegg’s visit forming a key part of this aspect of their election campaign.
The issue of a potential referendum on EU membership is a prominent one as this year’s general election approaches. The Conservatives are promising such a referendum should they be elected into power, with many MPs within the party supporting the idea of a possible exit from the European Union. Minor party UKIP has also risen to comparative prominence recently and attracted a large amount of media attention, primarily on the back of its anti-EU platform.
However, Clegg was critical of these parties’ readiness to separate the UK from “the world’s largest marketplace.” The Lib Dems, by contrast, he said supported the EU in a way that is entirely “unambiguous.” He did, however, promise that his party would deliver a referendum over any important power transfer that might be proposed.
Clegg emphasised support of Europe as a key difference between his party and the Conservatives with which the Lib Dems have been sharing power. “Of course we have different views to the Conservatives,” Clegg said, claiming that large parts of the latter party were “straining at the leash” to effect an exit from the EU. If they got their way, he said, it would be “a terrible thing for the British economy.”
Clegg’s comments add weight to recent comments from fellow Lib Dem Ed Davey. The cabinet minister recently said that a second coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be “incredibly difficult” after David Cameron’s promise of an EU membership referendum.
While Clegg shares his support of Europe with the opposition Labour party, he was quick to emphasise that there are still many differences. In particular, he was critical of Labour’s “failure to spell out when they would actually balance the books.”
Clegg went on to say he was “dismayed” by Labour’s plans for borrowing, which would amount to “£70bn more than we think is needed.”