UK Politics

A week's a long time in EU debates

Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage Image copyright BBC/Jeff Overs

Wow, what a complete contrast to last week's debate.

Heated from the start, combative and much more cut and thrust. Both sides came out of the blocks at a sprint and this time, with the debate chaired by David Dimbleby, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage had more space to have a go at each together.

It did feel a little bit like they'd swapped the parts they'd played last time. Very quickly it was clear Mr Farage was aiming for a more mellow, controlled performance whereas Mr Clegg was much more passionate and fired up.

As they traded blows it soon became personal with Nick Clegg accusing Nigel Farage of "conning" the British public.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the UKIP leader's claim that the country could have the benefits of membership of the European Union without the costs sounded "too good to be true... then it probably is... it is a dangerous con, because the modern world has changed. Our economies are intertwined with each other".

But Mr Farage insisted Mr Clegg was part of a "career political class" who were in cahoots with big business and wanted to maintain the status quo.

It was tense and tetchy as the topics ranged across foreign affairs, immigration, trade, EU reform and, yes, an EU referendum.

Mr Clegg repeatedly accused the UKIP leader of "fantasy". He lambasted Mr Farage for "indefensible" comments in which he suggested he admired the Russian president Vladimir Putin for outwitting the EU and western leaders.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel Farage soon tells us that the moon landing was fake, that Barack Obama is not American, that Elvis is not dead," Mr Clegg said.

But hitting back Mr Farage said the Liberal Democrat leader was "wilfully lying" about how many laws were imposed on the UK by the EU.

"You are wilfully lying to the British people about the extent to which we have given away control of our country and our democracy and I'm really shocked and surprised that you would try and do that."

So, if you were after a fierce debate you'll have got what you wanted. The bitter face-off was no nonsense, uncompromising and brutal.

Finally to the question everyone is now asking, who won? Well both teams are of course backing their own man but snapshot polls from YouGov and ICM put Mr Farage ahead as the clear winner.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few days and weeks as we see whether voters agreed with Nick or Nigel... or perhaps neither of them.

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