UK Politics

Lib Dems face 'uphill struggle' in EU elections - Clegg

Nick Clegg Image copyright Getty Images

The Liberal Democrats are facing a "real uphill struggle" going into the European parliament elections in May, party leader Nick Clegg has said.

He accused the Conservatives and UKIP of playing "silly political games" and jeopardising millions of UK jobs by making a UK-EU exit more likely.

"Being in Europe, at the end of the day, means being in work," he told LBC.

Tory MP Liam Fox warned earlier that a vote for anyone other than the Conservatives risked "tragedy".

In May, voters across the EU will decide who is to represent them at the European Parliament.

David Cameron has pledged to hold an in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election, which is due in 2015, but the UK Independence Party has demanded a referendum sooner.

'Breathless condemnation'

"There is only one party in this country that can guarantee the people in this country will get a referendum on the EU and that is the Conservative Party," former defence secretary Mr Fox told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"A vote for anyone else is likely to mean no vote for the British people on their own destiny. That would be a tragedy."

But on his weekly phone-in show on LBC Radio, Mr Clegg said: "We're getting to a point in the debate where you've got this unholy bidding war between the Conservative Party and UKIP about who can sound more breathless in their condemnation of all things European.

"Before you know it this country will find itself outside the EU. That means we would find ourselves less relevant and powerful in the world.

"But crucially there would be fewer people in work, because being in Europe, at the end of the day, means being in work.

"I'm not going to stand idly by while people play ever more silly political games and jeopardise millions of jobs in this country."

The deputy prime minister concluded: "We're going to remain the party of 'in'."

His comments came on the day a YouGov opinion poll for The Sun suggested the Conservatives would come third if the European elections were held tomorrow, with 23% of the vote, compared with 26% for UKIP, 32% for Labour and 9% for the Lib Dems.

Mr Clegg criticised the accuracy of pollsters, who he said "make wildly different predictions, almost none of which ever turn out to be the case".

"Let's wait and see what the people say rather than what pollsters say," he said, before conceding: "That is not to deny that we've got a real uphill struggle."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Liam Fox said a rational and reasonable debate was needed on Europe

Earlier Mr Fox, in response to a question on whether the UK Independence Party could win the forthcoming poll, said: "I think pretty much anything could happen in May because voters will very much see the European elections as a referendum on a referendum."

The Conservative MP for for North Somerset added: "It's very important that the Conservative Party is defined by the national interest, that we decide that we have to have a rational and reasonable debate about our role in Europe and our role in the world."

Meanwhile, the Sun quoted UKIP leader Nigel Farage as saying in response to the polling data: "These are exciting figures. This will be the most significant Euro election ever in this country because at last we discussing Europe and immigration - we hope to win it."

The same online poll, of 1,893 British adults on Tuesday and Wednesday, suggested that if there were a general election tomorrow Labour would get 39% of votes, the Conservatives 33%, UKIP 12% and the Lib Dems 10%.

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