Clegg issues major rebuke to Cameron on EU policy
Published 31/10/2011 | 05:00
Britain's deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has set himself on a collision course with David Cameron over EU policy after warning that it would be "economic suicide" for Britain to "retreat to the margins" of Europe.
Mr Clegg delivered his strongest rebuke so far to Tory Eurosceptics hoping to reclaim powers from Brussels.
Mr Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats are traditionally pro-European, said rewriting the EU's founding texts would open a "Pandora's Box" and leave the continent paralysed when it should be focused on restoring economic growth.
His intervention comes as Mr Cameron faces a gruelling series of parliamentary showdowns with rebel Tory MPs over increases to the EU's budget and changes to Britain's extradition laws.
More than 80 Conservative MPs rebelled last week over a call for a referendum on UK membership of the EU, and polls have suggested that two thirds of the public -- and 80pc of Tory voters -- agree.
Writing in 'The Observer', Mr Clegg said it was clear the 17 eurozone nations were moving towards more fiscal integration and the European landscape was "about to change". But he complained that "two extremes" were dominating the debate on how Britain should respond.
"On the one hand, there are some who see an opportunity for a more centralised EU, built around a tighter, quasi-federalist core," Mr Clegg wrote. "On the other, are those who imagine a chance for the UK to draw away from the union.
"They relish the prospect of a unilateral raid on Brussels' powers. The irony is that both options require treaty change: Europhiles and Europhobes are clamouring for the same thing.
"As always, neither extreme of the argument is right. Both would have the UK give up our place at the European top table, sacrificing the influence essential to our prosperity.
"Being shoved to the margins, or retreating there voluntarily, would be economic suicide: a surefire way to hurt British businesses and lose jobs."
Mr Clegg said there was "sense" in amending the EU's foundations to ensure members obeyed strict budgetary rules.
"Having worked in the EU, my concern is that tampering with the EU's founding texts is opening a Pandora's box, leaving us paralysed by ideological battles, institutional navel-gazing and special demands from every member state."
Mr Clegg rejected the idea that the UK should aim to become the leader of the "outs" -- the 10 countries not in the euro.
"To limit our ambition like this would be an extraordinary own goal," he insisted. "Why would we seek to head up a smaller club with a fast diminishing membership? Many of our fellow 'outs' eventually want to become 'ins'."
Mr Cameron has insisted that the rebalancing of powers was possible, but acknowledged that the Liberal Democrats could limit the extent of any shift.
"As Europe develops there will be, in time, greater opportunities for greater rebalancing and for Britain to reach, I think, a more satisfactory position with regards to our relationship with Europe," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)