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Nick Clegg and David Lidington make the economic argument for staying inside the EU

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2012-11-01 at 11.15.49If David Cameron is looking for help from Nick Clegg in defusing tensions over Europe he's not going to get it. The Deputy Prime Minister has just given a speech in which he describes last night's 53 Tory rebels as "political opportunists". In his speech he argues that Britain should choose a middle path between the core countries who are in the Eurozone and forging even closer union and the countries that he describes as being on the periphery - "the accession countries, EEA countries, Norway, Switzerland, and so on".

After long advocating Euro entry Mr Clegg now admits that Britain won't join the single currency in his "political lifetime". We won't therefore, he concedes, be part of the inner core. He also goes on to reject fundamental renegotiation, arguing that it simply isn't on the agenda or acceptable to other member states:

"It is wishful thinking to suggest we could effectively give ourselves a free pass to undercut the Single Market, only to then renegotiate our way back in to the laws that suit us. The rest of Europe simply wouldn’t have it. What kind of club gives you a full pass, with all the perks, but doesn’t expect you to pay the full membership fee or abide by all the rules? If anyone else tried to do it, if the French tried to duck out of the rules on the environment or consumer protection, if the Germans tried to opt out of their obligations on competition and the single market, we would stop them – and rightly so."

In other words we have to accept the existing rules of the Club - with, perhaps, some minor modifications or we leave. Mr Clegg goes on to warn that if we chose to leave the Club there would be terrible consequences for UK exporters:

"The Commission has just confirmed, for example, that if the UK suddenly left the EU, we would instantly lose access to every EU trade agreement with a third party. Agreements with 46 countries are in place, and agreements with a further 78 are under negotiation. Our membership of the EU gives us access to all of them, and that includes almost every Commonwealth country. The EU is looking at opening negotiations with nine more countries, two of which, Japan and the USA, would be very significant. Do we really want to leave the EU, lose these free trade arrangements for UK exporters, which go above and beyond WTO rules, and potentially have to negotiate that all from scratch? The UK government would spend a decade doing that and nothing else. And can anyone seriously suggest that Japan, or South Korea, or Brazil would cut us a better deal as an island of 60m people than as a continent of 500 million?"

People like me, who believe that Britain would be 'Better Off Out', need to realise that these threats will have a powerful effect on floating voters - especially if UK businesses rather than politicians like Mr Clegg start to make them. Paul Goodman has long made the case for an EU-sceptic business group but none has emerged.

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The Liberal Democrat leader makes it clear today that he wants Britain to be in Europe - "strong, loud, present". He doesn't really push the EU reform arguments that some in his party want. The Deputy PM's arguments aren't so very different from those of the Tory MP and Europe Minister David Lidington (above). Responding to a debate initiated by Douglas Carswell MP in the Commons last Friday, Mr Lidington made the case for continued engagement with the EU - largely for economic reasons:

"The challenge to my hon. Friend is that our continued membership for 40 years derives not from some mythical conspiracy of civil servants in King Charles street... but from a hard-headed, calculated and pragmatic decision by successive Governments, and successive leaders of the Conservative party, that despite the acknowledged flaws and drawbacks of the European Union as it has existed and as it exists today, our membership of it is to the national advantage. It is to the advantage of the British people because of what it gives us through trade, market access, the attraction of foreign direct investment, and increased diplomatic leverage over foreign and security policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton posed what I think is a false choice between increasing our trade with the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America and maintaining the lion’s share of our trade that remains with the European Union. Although I think that future growth will indeed, as he says, come largely from those emerging markets, the bulk of our trade and inward investment will continue to come from Europe."

> Read Mr Clegg's full speech.


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