LibLink: Nick Clegg: My birthday wish is that we win the argument for staying in the EU

Nick Clegg’s first Standard column of the New Year is published on his birthday. Twitter was not exactly heaving with birthday wishes as midnight passed, but there were some:

Anyway, when he blows out the 49 candles on his birthday cake today, he’ll be wishing that we stay in the EU. I thought they weren’t supposed to come true if you told them, but there is some relevance to the paragraph he spends going on about the misery of a January birthday. What was happening around the time he was born?

On this day 49 years ago, British diplomats were preparing for negotiations with the six founder members of the European Economic Community — Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — over our application to join. It was our second attempt to get into the European club, having tried four years earlier only to be rebuffed with a haughty “Non!” from Charles de Gaulle.

The debate about whether we should be in or out was remarkably similar to the one we are having today. People on the pro side of the argument believed it was in our economic and strategic interest to join; the antis warned it would lead to the surrender of too much British sovereignty. Plus ça change.

He then outlines three principles by which we should judge all the froth that will appear in the run-up to the Referendum.

First of all, you can’t have your cake and eat it:

In normal life, no one expects you can have the full rights to a tennis club or a fitness gym without paying your dues and signing up to the rules. Only children believe it’s reasonable to eat the cake and custard but insist that someone else eats their Brussels sprouts. Yet this is exactly what the anti-EU campaigners claim: that we can merrily leave the EU, stop paying our dues, refuse to play by the rules, but still get all the benefits of being part of the world’s largest marketplace and ask the other EU member states to shoulder all the onerous duties for us.

I’d actually prefer Brussels Sprouts than cake, to be honest, but that’s not the point.

Secondly Nick makes the point that we need to grab people’s hearts – but, sadly, he seems to be talking about doing it in a more Better Together way than a positive way. That worries me, knowing the mess we are still dealing with in Scotland because the pro-UK campaign did just that.

The referendum will not be won by statistics, but by emotion. I don’t just mean flighty emotion about the virtues of international solidarity and co-operation. Fear of the unknown is a powerful — and legitimate — emotion too. In a risk-averse society people rightly don’t want to take risks with their wellbeing and security. So pro-EU campaigners must appeal to the strong, emotional attachment to stability, to solidity, to the imperfect but reassuring contours of the world we know.

Nick’s final point is that there is safety in numbers – and it’s better to be part of a group rather than isolated in today’s world. That’s a very valid point.

Finally, safety in numbers is a precious thing. Our age is defined above all by a profound sense of insecurity. Terrorism, climate change, globalisation, mass immigration — all conspire to create an overwhelming feeling of insecurity among millions of our fellow citizens. Yet we cannot tackle a single one of these forces on our own.

Far from inhibiting our freedom to act in the modern world, membership of the EU gives us greater clout to extend our reach. Yet the antis want to make us more — not less — insecure by forcing us to face these challenges alone.

You can read his whole article here.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Nick, and enjoy the countdown to next year’s Golden Jubilee.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and LibLink.


  • The problem is that we are paying our dues (which go up every year) and other people are getting the fluffy towels, extra personal trainer sessions and fitness classes at our expense.

    Why do we have to pay “dues” to trade with other countries anyway? We don’t pay fixed “dues” of billions of pounds a year to export to China or to the US, do we? And we are paying to trade with a group of nations where our exports are going down, not up, while we import steadily more of their goods. Meanwhile, our exports to countries outside the EU are increasing.

    On top of this, we are subsidising other countries’ infrastructure to compete with our underperforming regions (e.g. Jaguar Land Rover is about to invest £1bn in building a factory in Slovakia that could have been built in the UK) and providing employment for their workers while leaving many of our own people on the scrapheap.

    As for which other “onerous duties” Nick Clegg is talking about, I’m at a loss to think of which.

    I say all of this as someone who speaks foreign languages, loves other European countries and has a partner from another EU country. The problem is that assessed costs versus benefits, the downsides to the UK of EU membership are steadily increasing in many respects, not just in terms of net financial contribution, while the benefits are lessening dramatically.

    Nick is mistaken. Most people in the UK were never “in love” with the EU. They accepted it pragmatically on the basis that, whatever its political downsides (“ever closer union” etc.), the balance of economic benefits was positive. However, now, for many people, the balance has shifted.

  • Nick who?

  • Strange to say, I’m actually a big fan of Nick Clegg generally, whatever his faults, but on this one he’s onto a loser and is not going to help the EU cause.

    To convince people to stay in the EU (me included) we need to have a *positive* vision of what it can achieve for the UK in the future and how the EU is going to deal with its many pressing problems. At present, this “vision thing” is sorely lacking.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jan '16 - 4:14pm

    RC is right: why do we have to pay our dues? It’s imperialism to suggest if a country wants to trade with you they have to pay an additional fee on top.

    The public want someone will will stand up for the UK and/or their constituencies. What’s the point in sacrificing the party’s electability on the alter of the EU?

    The EU is an institution. It is not people. It is not the soil of the European continent; we can criticise it.

    Free movement is a benefit for UK citizens too, but we still don’t want leaders who will walk into the negotiation room and say “yes EU, yes EU, three bags full EU”.

  • Let this man a thousand feet near the campaign and we loose. Please think about this before you post his views.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Jan '16 - 5:39pm

    Please include the list of desired improvements that federal conference voted for in federal conference in Bournemouth, difficult as some may be. For instance the European Parliament should meet in one place.
    Part of the money is for “structural funds (regional aid). We support regional aid within the UK. We support regional aid for parts of the world outside the EU.
    The UK is not the only net contributor. Democracy was strengthened when Spain switched from dictatorship under the Falange and avoided the military risk of having a communist state at our rear during the Cold War. Similarly for Portugal, whose dictatorship had been fighting and losing colonial wars in Africa.
    West Germany had been a major contributor, but needed to pick up the bill for the former communist state of East Germany and for the transfer and housing of 400,000 military personnel back to Russia.
    The countries of central Europe are as European as we are, Prague is west of Vienna. Poland has been the meat in a sandwich several times. These countries needed membership of both the EU and NATO.
    Allowing Romania and Bulgaria to fall back into Moscow’s orbit might have precluded their chances of democracy for decades, but the German Enlargement Commissioner and the UK government at the time knew that there would be a financial cost.
    Christian Orthodoxy is a major branch of Christianity.
    Stick to our principles.

  • Helen Dudden 7th Jan '16 - 8:30pm

    Where do you start on the faults of this gravy train?

    Its about time we considered our own right to say no. For so long I’ve kept going on the subject of the failures of law and justice. The Brussels 11a was never fit for purpose, but then you could add the Hague Convention too.

    Family law and human rights were never totally embraced or practiced that’s for sure.

    Different countries have ideas on how things should be, not taking into account the laws or cultures of another.

    I’m part French so I should be, but I can see things are falling apart.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Jan '16 - 1:53am

    Clegg’s “about the same” response was one of the stupidest things any politician has ever said. Had he forgotten about his time as an MEP? What was he doing back then? Following a line of slavish obedience to the European Commission? And what makes it most unforgiveably stupid was that it was during an election campaign for the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, the WHOLE POINT of which is to elect people who help decide what the EU should look like. But our European election campaign essentially ignored the European Parliament, and instead had Clegg agreeing with Farage that MEPs don’t matter and that the EU debate is a binary choice between uncritical support and withdrawal.
    So no, I don’t want him anywhere near the pro-EU referendum campaign either.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Jan '16 - 8:07am

    Would it not have been better for the Party had LDV taken a lead from Jonathan Calder

    For a Lib Dem MP to have the worst attendance record in the House of Commons is really not acceptable.

  • Denis Loretto 8th Jan '16 - 10:40am

    I am amazed to see posters on this thread for whose previous contributions I have had some respect peddling the nonsense about trading freely with EU countries without “paying our dues”. The simple truth was spelled out in the Commons debate on January 5, not by a starry-eyed euro-fanatic but by the PM in reply to the sort of question by Chuka Umunna that our lot should be asking –

    Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Many of those who argue for us to leave the European Union suggest that we could continue to be part of the single market without having to abide by any of the obligations that go with it. Does the Prime Minister know of any non-EU states that enjoy free trade with the single market but are not part of the free movement that goes with it?

    The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Look, my argument will in no way be that Britain could not succeed outside the European Union, because of course we could; we are a great country, the world’s fifth largest economy and a great trading power. The argument will be about whether we would be more prosperous and more secure inside or outside a reformed EU. To answer his question directly—I answered this when I went to Iceland—countries such as Iceland and Norway have to obey all the rules of the single market, including on the free movement of people, but without having any say on what those rules are. In Norway it has been described as democracy by fax, because the instructions comes through from Brussels, and they pay more per head to the EU than we do. It will be for the campaign responsible to make the arguments about what life would be like outside the EU, and this is a crucial question that it will have to answer.

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