LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the European Union are wishful thinking and likely to yield only minor concessions that will not unite his governing Conservative party, his coalition partner warned yesterday.
In a speech at Thomson Reuters in London, Nick Clegg, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, launched one of his strongest critiques of Cameron’s Europe policy so far as he unveils his own ideas for reform and sets out the case for Britain to remain inside the 28-nation bloc.
“The Conservative leadership has spent the last three years ducking and weaving, looking for a way out,” Clegg was to say, according to advance extracts from his speech.
“David Cameron started with grand plans for the repatriation of powers, then he shifted ground. None of this has anything to do with the real issues — the need for a more competitive EU —it’s all about managing internal Conservative party divisions.”
The robust nature of Clegg’s criticism is likely to cause tensions within Britain’s two-party coalition government ahead of European elections this month. Clegg’s party, the Liberal Democrats, are the junior partner to the Conservatives, and polls suggest they could come fourth in the vote.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which campaigns for Britain to leave the EU, is likely to poll ahead of both parties.
Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties and to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to remain inside the EU in 2017.
Clegg, whose party has styled itself as Britain’s most pro-EU force, will say the strategy is doomed. “You cannot secure a new settlement for Britain through a one-off negotiation conducted under the threat of exit,” Clegg, 47, was to say at a Reuters Newsmaker event at its London headquarters in Canary Wharf yesterday.
“He’ll be able to agree various minor opt outs and exemptions for Britain with other European leaders. But we wouldn’t let the French or Germans pick and choose the bits of the Single Market they like, so the idea that they would do the same for us is wishful thinking.”