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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.

Screen Shot 2012-11-01 at 11.21.50

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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