Caron Lindsay reported here earlier today Nick Clegg’s initial reaction to David Camern’s announcement there will be an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Here’s what he told the BBC:
And here’s the transcript of his interview with Sky News:
Gary Honeyford, Sky News: Deputy Prime Minister, we’re in pretty straitened economic times. Is this crusade of the Prime Minister’s not simply a major distraction?
Nick Clegg: The biggest challenge which is facing our country is that we have a fragile economy which is taking time to recover. That’s why my priority, certainly the priority of the Liberal Democrats, is to build a stronger economy in a fairer society. Now, that job is made all the harder if we have years of grinding uncertainty because of an ill-defined, protracted renegotiation of Britain’s status within the European Union. That in my view will hit growth and it will hit jobs and that’s why in my view it’s not in the national interest.
GH: Can you clarify for us what the Prime Minister means? Does he actually mean that there will be nothing happening for two years and then subsequent to another election we all of a sudden get this renegotiation and then a referendum?
NC: On the issue of a referendum, of course there is a right time and there is a right place for a referendum. In fact it is this Coalition Government, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, who have legislated, who have put in law for the first time a guarantee to the British people of the circumstances under which a referendum will take place. But we should always be governed by what’s in the national interest, and my view is that years and years of uncertainty because of a protracted, ill-defined renegotiated of our place in Europe is not in the national interest because it hits growth and jobs.
GH: But you’ve got another two years in partnership with a man who says he wants this to happen. Can the Government be cast in anything but limbo during that period?
NC: It’s entirely for the Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative Party to set out what he wants to put in the Conservative Party manifesto and what he wants to do if there was a Conservative majority government. My priority remains, and will always remain: yes, reform in Europe; yes, a referendum where the circumstances are right, as we’ve set out in law; but above and beyond anything else, promoting growth and jobs and building a stronger economy in a fairer society.
GH: The Prime Minister says support in the country for the EU is wafer thin at this moment. Do you believe that? You’re a pro-European – are you deeply unhappy today?
NC: I think my view is that the overwhelming priority of the British people is jobs, is growth, is a strong economy and my view is that that is made all the more difficult, achieving that ambition, if you have years and years of uncertainty because of an ill-defined and protracted renegotiation of Britain’s status within the European Union.