Nick Clegg: ‘arcane EU debate will hurt economy’
David Cameron’s EU referendum promise is “not in the national interest” and risks derailing the fragile UK economy, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned, as the Coalition divide widens.
He launched a renewed assault on the plan, as opinion polls suggested the Tories had reaped an opinion poll bounce from the long-awaited policy.
Mr Cameron insists he wants to stay in the EU but pledged to claw back powers and offer voters a choice of exit by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives gain power in 2015. It has delighted eurosceptic backbenchers fearful of Ukip, which slipped back in polls after a recent surge.
Mr Clegg dismissed the prospects of a significant renegotiation and suggested Mr Cameron should focus on the economy as it teeters on the edge of triple-dip recession.
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“My priority will always remain a simple objective of building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everybody to get on in life,” the Liberal Democrat leader told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
“It is not in the national interest when we have this fragile recovery, when we have a very open economy which is very dependent on investors in the car industry and the banking system and so on.
“You must always, when you are trying to piece together a recovery, foster those precarious conditions of greater confidence in the economy, you mustn’t do anything to make that more difficult.”
He denied his party had done a U-turn by opposing a referendum – having argued strongly for an in/out vote in 2008 – saying that had been in the context of the approval of the Lisbon Treaty. The coalition had legislated for a referendum if there was any further such transfer.
“It is the Conservatives who have decided to tie the country up in knots by redesigning and fiddling around with the terms...before the British people even get near a referendum.”
Mr Clegg again declined to say whether he would form a coalition with the Tories if there was no clear winner at the 2015 general election.