British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg exposed coalition tensions over Europe on Sunday when he said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the outcome of the European Union summit and had told Prime Minister David Cameron it was “bad for Britain”.
Clegg, who leads the small pro-Europe Liberal Democrats, denied that the Conservative-led coalition which took office in May 2010 with a deficit-cutting agenda could now collapse.
“It would be even more damaging for us as a country if the coalition government were now to fall apart. That would create economic disaster for the country at a time of great economic uncertainty,” said Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Clegg turned his fire on eurosceptic members of the Conservative Party who are pressing Cameron to follow up his veto on EU treaty change with a referendum on Britain’s membership of the 27-nation bloc.
“A Britain which leaves the EU will be considered to be irrelevant by Washington and would be considered a pygmy in the world when I want us to stand tall and lead in the world,” Clegg told BBC TV.
Britain on Friday opted out of a plan to forge ahead with a new European Union treaty with a tougher deficit and debt regime to avoid a repetition of the debt crisis in future, saying it had not got safeguards for its financial services industry.
That left island nation Britain isolated as never before in the EU, a club it joined in 1973 but which Britons have long viewed with distrust.
Clegg’s tough talk is likely to reassure the grassroots of his centre-left party which formed an uneasy alliance with the Conservatives after an inconclusive election last year.
Support for the Lib Dems has halved to little more than 10% since the election, with many erstwhile supporters unhappy with compromises it has made, most notably a decision to jettison its opposition to higher tuition fees for university students.
Pulling the plug on the coalition now would leave the Lib Dems facing a beating in any snap election.
However, Clegg said he now wanted Britain to re-engage with Europe, putting him on a collision course with right-wing legislators in the Conservative camp.
“I’m bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week’s summit, precisely because I think now there is a danger that the UK will be isolated and marginalised within the European Union,” he told the BBC’s flagship Andrew Marr Show.
“I don’t think that’s good for jobs, in the city or elsewhere, I don’t think it’s good for growth or for families up and down the country.” — Reuters