Clegg plays economy card in Europe debate

By staff

The coalition's internal debate over Europe shows no sign of abating after Nick Clegg's insistence that Britain must stay in the European Union to help the economic recovery.

The deputy prime minister, a former MEP whose pro-EU stance reflects that of the coalition's junior party, said this morning that moving to the margins of Europe would hit people "where it hurts most".

It follows the enormous revolt by 81 Conservative backbenchers against a three-line whip opposing an EU referendum last Monday.

"It is only by having a loud voice in a united Europe that we can promote the open economy that will deliver growth," Mr Clegg wrote in an article for the Observer.

"Being shoved to the margins, or retreating there voluntarily, would be economic suicide: a sure-fire way to hurt British businesses and lose jobs."

Tory eurosceptics are hoping ministers will respond to last week's vote by agreeing to reassess the possible repatriation of powers from Brussels to London, in spite of the Liberal Democrat leader's comments.

In private he is understood to have accepted that there will have to be some concessions, the Sun reported. It claimed David Cameron and Mr Clegg had struck a 'secret deal' over Europe which would allow repatriation negotiations to take place.

Mr Clegg was less compromising on the Today programme this morning, when he argued that "arcane debates" about EU treaty issues were not as important as the "urgent overriding national priority" of bolstering the struggling economy.

"We do that by being in the centre of the argument, not on the outer fringes of the argument," he said.

"If instead we rush headlong down a cul-de-sac of increasingly arcane, legalistic arguments about changes to treaties that may or may not be open to renegotiation in the future, then I think that would be a form of displacement activity from our overriding national duty.

"We have got to get the best out of the European Union, not seek to get out of the European Union."