Nigel Farage 'can hardly wait' to debate EU with Nick Clegg

Nigel Farage said he accepted Nick Clegg's invitation to a debate on the UK's membership of the EU ''gleefully''

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UKIP leader Nigel Farage has accepted a challenge from Nick Clegg to have a public debate on the merits of the UK's membership of the EU.

"I can hardly wait," he told LBC radio, saying the deputy prime minister was "all over the place" on the issue.

He also urged David Cameron and Ed Miliband to take part in a contest ahead of May's European elections.

UKIP, which wants to leave the EU, hopes to top May's poll while the Lib Dems say they are "the party of 'in'".

The Lib Dem leader threw down the gauntlet to Mr Farage on Thursday, saying he was the right person to debate the issue of Europe with the UKIP leader.

'No choice'

In response, Mr Farage said he wanted the Conservative and Labour leaders to join in a four-man debate, which he suggested should take place during the campaign in April or May.

But, even if they declined, he said he would take on the Lib Dem leader in a head-to-head duel, adding "it's on".

Start Quote

When the deputy PM says he wants to go public and have a debate with me on this issue, I have absolutely no choice.”

End Quote Nigel Farage UKIP leader

He said he had been inspired to enter politics because "we weren't having a proper talk" about the "great question of who governs our country: our own Parliament... or the European Commission and the other institutions in Brussels".

Mr Farage continued: "I've battled on for 20 years, I've been laughed at, ridiculed, attacked. But at no point in the 15 years that I've now been an MEP have we ever had a full national debate about the merits or demerits of EU membership.

"Therefore, when the deputy PM says he wants to go public and have a debate with me on this issue, I have absolutely no choice.

"I've got to say yes, because we need to have a national debate on what I think is the most important issue this country has faced for hundreds of years."

Nick Clegg The Lib Dems say millions of jobs in the UK are dependent on EU membership

But there was "one small caveat", he added: "I do really want for the Labour Party in the shape of Ed Miliband and the Conservative Party, in the shape of the prime minister, to join this debate as well."

However, he predicted that the two men would decline. "In fact, Downing Street have already briefed that David Cameron was actually too busy running the country" he added.

'Two sides'

LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, who hosts regular phone-ins with both Mr Clegg and Mr Farage on the station, suggested that the broadcaster would be keen to host such a debate.

Asked later where it would take place, Mr Farage suggested there could be a "bidding war" among broadcasters.

Start Quote

The priority for us is to ensure that there are debates agreed between Ed Miliband and David Cameron at the time of the general election”

End Quote Labour

He also predicted that the debate with Mr Clegg could be a stepping stone towards UKIP's inclusion in TV debates expected to take place during the 2015 general election.

If UKIP topped May's poll, he added, "how can they possibly keep us out of the leaders' debates next year?"

The Lib Dems said they welcomed the prospect of a head-to-head encounter with Mr Farage on Europe, adding that "both sides will now get together to discuss how we can make this happen".

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Clegg said he wanted to make the case for EU membership being vital to the UK's economic prosperity and its security.

"I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the EU, because that is now the choice facing this country and he is the leader of the party of 'out'; I am the leader of the party of 'in'.

"I think it's time we now have a proper, public debate so that the public can listen to the two sides of the argument and judge from themselves."

But Labour appeared to distance itself from the idea.

"The priority for us is to ensure that there are debates agreed between the two prospective prime ministers of the country - Ed Miliband and David Cameron - at the time of the general election," a spokesman said.

"Anything else will be a matter for negotiation after that is agreed."

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    16:22: Immigration punishment
    Peter Kellner

    "When parties are seeking votes what matters is the plausibility, the credibility of what they say," YouGov president Peter Kellner says on the BBC News channel. "If you have one party saying we'll stop immigration, and another party saying we will control it better… voters will go for the more credible promise." He thinks Nigel Farage is being "quite smart because he's not promising the moon, he's promising something that is perhaps deliverable". The Tories, by contrast, will be "punished" for having failed to meet their 2010 manifesto commitment of cutting net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. But only those "for whom immigration matters to them personally" will turn their backs on David Cameron, Mr Kellner adds.

     
  59.  
    16:21: Steel 'driven mad' by e-mails
    Lord Steel

    Let's put aside thoughts about election debates and policy wrangles for one moment and reflect on the issue of e-mail etiquette. Former Liberal leader Lord Steel is concerned about the subject and has written a letter to The Oldie magazine. "Am I the only person driven mad by receiving emails from all and sundry beginning 'I hope you are well?' he writes. "When did this start and when will it end?"

     
  60.  
    16:15: Lib Dems vs Greens
    Ed Davey

    Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has gone on the offensive against the Greens in an interview with sustainable living publication BusinessGreen. "They are very against the single market in Europe, which is disastrous for the environment," he said. "They want to nationalise everything - I think they'd undermine green business quicker than any party imaginable. They want to nationalise whole swathes of Britain's energy system." Green MEP Molly Scott Cato responded by saying Mr Davey's attacks showed "just how desperate" the Lib Dems have become.

     
  61.  
    16:06: Handover time

    Stepping aside with dignity is something all the party leaders may have to get familiar with if the results don't go their way on 7 May. It's something our early bloggers, Matthew West and Victoria King, are able to do with the same combination of grace and panache that's typified their copy all day. They're relinquished their keyboards as it's time for Gavin Stamp and Alex Stevenson to take over and keep you updated until midnight.

     
  62.  
    16:03: Mexican talks in No 10
    David Cameron (right) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

    David Cameron has been holding talks with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in 10 Downing Street. The two countries' respective foreign ministers have also signed a declaration on closer co-operation.

     
  63.  
    16:02: Commons action House of Commons Parliament

    In the Commons chamber, MPs have agreed legislation devolving the power to set Corporation Tax to the Northern Ireland government. The Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill will now go before the House of Lords for further scrutiny. A debate on future government spending called by Labour is now underway. Chris Leslie is leading for the opposition while Treasury minister David Gauke is representing the government in the early stages.

     
  64.  
    16:01: More on TV debates

    Broadcasters have offered to change the date of a planned election debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband if the leaders agree. You can read our full story here.

     
  65.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC 16:02: Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: ...so if you watched them all back to back, starting now, non stop, you'd still be watching on Saturday morning.

     
  66.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC 15:50: Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: A little #PMQs factoid @edgingtont dredged out for #Wato @bbcradio4: today was the 130th encounter between Messrs Cameron&Miliband...

     
  67.  
    15:48: 'Completely pointless' House of Commons Parliament
    James Gray MP

    James Gray, a Conservative member of the procedure committee, launches a scathing attack on Thursday's debates held by the backbench business committee, which he says are "about as important as the Oxford Union - they're completely pointless". Mr Gray says the government has covertly accrued power in parliament while MPs work hard in their constituencies. "The executive go their merry way and occasionally say to select committee chairmen 'aren't you important', when in fact they're not," he adds. Sir George Young, who was leader of the House in the first years of this parliament, replies: "You do a serious disservice to the backbench business committee."

     
  68.  
    @anntreneman 15:44: Ann Treneman, Times sketch writer

    tweets: I have just spent some time in a basement with Sir Richard Branson and Nick Clegg. Surely this is beyond the call of duty

     
  69.  
    15:38: Debate statement
    Leaders' election debate from 2010

    Channel 4 has issued a statement about its proposed head-to-head debate between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, the subject of a row at PMQs earlier. It reads: "Sky News and Channel 4 are continuing to prepare for a head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on 30 April. However, in response to media inquiries following today's PMQs, we would obviously be willing to host a debate on a different day the two main party leaders could agree on."

     
  70.  
    15:38: Excuses, excuses House of Commons Parliament
    Thomas Docherty

    The Commons' procedure committee is questioning former leaders of the House, including Jack Straw - you can watch live coverage by clicking on the 'live coverage' tab at the top of this page. Labour MP Thomas Docherty apologises to the chair for being late but his excuse gets a decent laugh: "My plane was diverted to Stansted because its brakes weren't working, which I always think is something they ought to try before they take off."

     
  71.  
    15:22: Clegg "invasion" update
    Sheffield Hallam protest

    Here's an update on the situation in Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg's constituency office was briefly occupied by student protesters earlier. The arrival of the police swiftly brought proceedings to a close, the Sheffield Star reports. Sociology student Alison Kwan told the paper: "We were intimidated out of the office by the police so we went to the car park to have a seminar." This isn't the first time the deputy prime minister has had trouble with students, either, as our story from November 2010 shows.

     
  72.  
    15:17: Blue Labour returns
    Blue Labour books

    Blue Labour, the movement co-founded by MP Jon Cruddas and peer Maurice Glasman, is the subject of a new collection of essays being published this week. Today's launch at the University of Kent launch is taking place as supporters try to argue that small-c conservatism might just be the way forward for Ed Miliband's party. It's not for the faint-hearted though, as this example indicates: "Critiquing the dominance in Britain of a social-cultural liberalism linked to the left and a free-market liberalism associated with the right, Blue Labour blends a 'progressive' commitment to greater economic equality with a more 'conservative' disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality." Might be a bit late for the manifesto, perhaps.

     
  73.  
    15:11: Labour on immigration

    Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has responded to Nigel Farage's immigration speech this morning. "The Tories and UKIP have got themselves in a ridiculous tangle on their immigration promises," she says. "The Tories' net migration target is in tatters and they are arguing over whether to keep it. Now it seems UKIP are just as chaotic and confused." Ms Cooper's team privately admits Labour has had to work hard to address concerns about immigration in seats, particularly in the north of England, where it faces a threat from UKIP. But they insist Labour is making progress in engaging with concerned voters. Ms Cooper adds: "Nigel Farage's slippery approach is just designed to exploit concerns about immigration and increase division rather than ever setting out practical policies to control and manage immigration in a sensible way to make the system fair."

     
  74.  
    15:07: Straw before MPs
    Jack Straw

    They have more than 75 years combined parliamentary experience between them so Sir George Young and Jack Straw should know everything there is to know about Commons procedure. The veteran Conservative and Labour MPs' knowledge will be put to the test when the two men - who are both former leaders of the Commons - appear before the Commons procedure committee in a session starting about 15:00. The session should have an added edge to it given Mr Straw's recent suspension from the Labour Party over "cash for access" allegations - which are now being investigated by the parliamentary watchdog.

     
  75.  
    14:52: Paul Waugh, editor of Politicshome

    tweets: TweetOfTheDay RT @Kevin_Maguire: Geriatric John: RT @BuzzFeedUKPol Shocking news about Sir Menzies Campbell

    Menzies Campbell
     
  76.  
    14:40: Defence budget warning
    RAF Tornado GR4 in Afghanistan in November 2014

    The UK's defence chiefs should be prepared to resign en masse if the next government tries to impose any further cuts on the armed forces, a former head of the RAF has warned.

    Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon said the current service chiefs could face a "very, very difficult decision" if they are confronted with the prospect of further cutbacks after the general election in May.

    He was speaking at a meeting of the UK National Defence Association (UNDA) campaign group, at which he also warned military chiefs could not carry on pretending they had the resources they needed.

     
  77.  
    14:35: Immigration vs everything else
    Issues index

    Nigel Farage's speech on immigration, one of UKIP's biggest campaigning issues, and Ed Miliband's attack on David Cameron over the issue in PMQs have got pundits asking how important the debate about net migration actually is to the election campaign. Yesterday's updated "issues index" from polling firm Ipsos Mori suggests it is an important issue for voters but not the most important.

     
  78.  
    14:32: Tory MP faces expenses payback
    Bob Blackman MP

    Conservative backbencher Bob Blackman faces repaying more than £1,000 after losing an appeal against an inquiry that found he claimed mileage expenses for up to five times the real distance. An investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) watchdog found last month that the Harrow East MP made more than 700 claims for travel around his constituency that were either "inaccurate" or not allowed under the rules. Mr Blackman refused to accept the findings, insisting he would hand back£237 for journeys to party political engagements and from his home to his office. Ipsa has said today it is standing by its original ruling.

     
  79.  
    14:25: Online voting
    Mobile phone

    Online voting could boost youth voter turnout from 44% in 2010 to as high as 70%, a report out today claims. The idea is being pushed by parliamentarians after the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy voiced its support for pilots in time for a 2020 rollout. Industry figures have suggested this is unlikely, but that isn't stopping WebRoots Democracy from making the case for online voting. "The UK is a politically active nation online, and we need to translate this passion to voting: the bedrock of our democracy," founder Areeq Chowdhury says. "Analogue methods of politics will increasingly become incompatible with the digital world of today."

     
  80.  
    14:18: Green team

    Back to Mumsnet, where Natalie Bennett is asked who's actually in charge of the Green Party. Is it true, she's asked, that she could share responsibility for the TV election debates - if they happen - with Caroline Lucas, her predecessor and the party's only MP?

    Ms Bennett answers thus: "The Green Party leadership is a team - that's something we've always made clear, and one of the things that is different about the Green Party. So we - and I - are perfectly comfortable with different people representing us in different forums, indeed we like to be able to share opportunities around.

    "That helps make it clear that unlike another party I think you could identify, we're not a one-man band!

    "Sometimes you might see me on the TV, sometimes Jenny Jones as our member of the House of Lords, sometimes Caroline, and sometimes one of our brilliant Young Green candidates."

     
  81.  
    14:12: Trident debate
    Trident submarine

    David Cameron was quick to turn Tory backbencher Liam Fox's question about Trident on Labour, amid fears from some that the SNP could insist on moving Britain's nuclear deterrent away from Scotland in coalition talks. "People don't want to see a grubby deal between the people who want to break up Britain and the people who want to bankrupt Britain," the prime minister said. The issue was highlighted by CND canvassing results published yesterday which suggested that three-quarters of Labour's parliamentary candidates would vote against Trident replacement.

     
  82.  
    @stefanstern Stefan Stern, columnist

    tweets: @IanDunt Yes, but Dave is still on the hook because of all those quotes he gave last time about how marvellous and essential they are.

     
  83.  
    @IanDunt Ian Dunt, editor of Politics.co.uk

    tweets: If Brown held out against TV debates, the media reaction would have been much more severe than it has been against Cameron.

     
  84.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: understand the migration policy fully unveiled by #ukip today has been the product of 7 months work

     
  85.  
    13:57: Public opinion on drugs
    Nick Clegg and Richard Branson

    Nick Clegg says the public's opinion on the idea of drugs reform is "more subtle and smarter" than the media believe.

     
  86.  
    @AlexStevensKent Alex Stevens, professor in Criminal Justice at the University of Kent

    tweets: I asked Clegg what UK decrim' would look like. A. We can work that out, and it would be cheaper than current system #CHEvents

     
  87.  
    PMQs Andy Crockett., Politics Live reader

    Wouldn't it be nice and a refreshing change if at PMQ's, the prime minister actually answered a question put to him? No invented question, no refusing to answer, no head in the sand, no evasion, just answer the question asked.

     
  88.  
    @JohnRentoul John Rentoul, columnist at the Independent on Sunday

    tweets: David Cameron embarrassed himself by refusing even to pretend to answer either of EdM's questions #PMQs

     
  89.  
    PMQs Eddie Jonas, Politics Live reader

    Don't you love the way carefully chosen and worded statistics are used by the PM? "Police funding has been reduced however the PERCENTAGE of front line staff has gone up!"

     
  90.  
    13:41: Green party leader on Mumsnet

    Natalie Bennett continues her redemption after last week's slew of criticism by appearing on a Mumsnet online Q&A session. So far, we've learned that the Greens would support the Labour Party on a confidence and supply basis in the event of a hung parliament, that they'd never form a coalition with the Tories, and that Ms Bennett's favourite biscuits are macaroons.

     
  91.  
    @mattholehouse Matthew Holehouse, political correspondent, Daily Telegraph

    tweets: Nick Clegg says many Tory MPs back him on drug reform, but we will have to find them ourselves

     
  92.  
    13:38: Immigration BBC Radio 4

    Is it time for the Conservatives to have a rethink on immigration? Eric Pickles says not. He tells The World at One it's a good thing to have a target of tens of thousands and there's no suggestion the Conservative Party is pulling back from its promise. Would he like to see it as a manifesto pledge this time around? The communities secretary says he's sure that "a number of policies" will be in the manifesto.

     
  93.  
    13:35: Office invasion

    While Nick Clegg is speaking in London, it appears some disgruntled students have invaded his Sheffield office. More details here in the Sheffield Star.

     
  94.  
    13:29: 'Reform not a taboo'

    Nick Clegg is pretty clear who he blames for inaction on the issue of drugs. "I'm incredibly frustrated that, after five years in coalition, we cannot take our work to its logical conclusion - just because the Tories are scared of being branded soft on drugs," he says. "It's time for the Conservatives and Labour to realise that the world has moved on, reform is no longer a taboo subject and voters expect politicians to deliver results based on solid evidence, not overblown rhetoric."

     
  95.  
    @BBCWorldatOne World at One

    tweets: @EricPickles: "This country was virtually bust when the coalition came in" #wato

     
  96.  
    @CH_Events Chatham House Events

    tweets: UK is way behind the curve - Portugal, Switzerland, US have all shown there is a better way to deal with #DrugPolicy - @DPMoffice #CHEvents

     
  97.  
    13:25: Living standards BBC Radio 4

    Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint says for the first time we will be going into a general election with most people receiving a lower wage than at the last election.

    Lib Dem Employment Minister Jo Swinson says there is also a skills gap, which the government is trying to plug. Only 7% of engineers are women, for example, she says, and that is something they're trying to fix.

    Meanwhile, Conservative Communities Secretary Eric Pickles tells the World at One that living standards for those of working age will move past their 2010 peak at the end of this year... but only if we "stick to our long-term economic plan".

     
  98.  
    @TransformDrugs Transform Drug Policy Foundation

    tweets: Richard Branson mentioned drug decriminalisation in Portugal. Find out more here

     
  99.  
    @DPMoffice Deputy PM, Nick Clegg

    tweets: Nick Clegg: The time for change has come; we need to implement evidence-based #DrugPolicy that works @RichardBranson

    Nick Clegg and Richard Branson at drugs event
     
  100.  
    13:18: Lending woes BBC Radio 4

    Steve Brittan, chief executive of company BSA Machine Tools, says it's all well and good telling businesses they need to invest, but without banks willing to lend them money to do so it's impossible for them to compete against their rivals, let alone expand their businesses.

     

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