Ukip a major threat to Britain, says Clegg

A victory for Ukip in the European elections would threaten the British economy, destroy jobs and leave the country open to climate chaos, Nick Clegg warned today.

In a wide-ranging attack, Clegg said the time had come to take the Eurosceptic party seriously.

"Mainstream politicians have made the mistake in the past of not taking UKIP, or the people who say they will vote for it, seriously," he wrote in the I Newspaper.

"That time has long passed. Ukip is for real. But if it were to win this May and take Britain a further step towards self-imposed exile from Europe, it could wreck the recovery and destroy British jobs."

He suggested the party's support was based on a prejudiced fear of "the other".

"I understand why Nigel Farage's brand of pub-friendly euroscepticism is appealing. It plays on the fear of the 'other', the fear of change, the belief that someone else must be to blame for the ills of the modern world.

"It offers beguilingly simple solutions: pull up the drawbridge, close the door and turn our back on the world. It is an appealing offer but one that is extremely dangerous."

He accused Labour and the Conservatives of allowing Ukip to "lead the debate" and claimed that only the Liberal Democrats are prepared to defend our relationship with Europe.

"Both the Conservatives and Labour are seemingly content to let Ukip lead the debate and edge us all slowly towards a state of hopeless isolation.

"Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting to keep Britain in Europe."

Clegg's warning came as a new poll showed the Lib Dems in danger of coming a humiliating fifth in the European elections.

The ICM poll for the Guardian found the party fighting for fourth place on nine per cent with the Green Party close behind on seven per cent.

Ukip are currently the bookies favourite to win the elections in May.

However today's ICM poll shows that Labour currently have a clear lead on 35% with the Conservatives on 25% and Ukip on just 20%.

The result may be difficult to predict due to an expected low turnout, with local elections only taking place at the same time in certain parts of the country.

Ukip's support has tended to rise significantly in the run up to previous European elections.