Britain faces “economic suicide” if it retreats to the sidelines of European Union policymaking, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Sunday (30 October).
Clegg’s comments come just a few days after more than a quarter of the legislators in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party broke with government policy and voted for a referendum on British withdrawal from the EU.
Cameron has tried to placate his party by promising to exploit Britain’s veto power over any EU treaty changes required by the eurozone’s bailout of Greece, to gain Britain exemptions from European employment law.
Germany has raised the possibility of treaty changes to create stronger budgetary supervision of the 17 eurozone countries, and this might give non-euro member Britain scope to negotiate concessions.
Many Britons are worried they may have to contribute financially to easing the eurozone debt crisis and suspicious that a European super-state will exert increasing control over their lives.
The latest Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission found that only 35% of Britons thought EU membership was beneficial.
But Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, said that renegotiating EU treaties risked “opening a Pandora’s box, leaving us paralysed by ideological battles, institutional navel-gazing and special demands from every member state”.
“These are dangerous distractions when our urgent priorities are restoring stability and jumpstarting growth,” Clegg added in an opinion piece for the Observer newspaper.
In a BBC interview broadcast Sunday, Cameron said that he and his Liberal Democrat partners did share some common ground over Europe.
“We do not agree about every aspect of European policy by any manner of means, but … they are interested in some rebalancing”, he said.
Clegg said his priorities were to avoid changing EU treaties if possible, to forge alliances with economically liberal states within as well as outside the eurozone, and to free up trade in services within the EU.
“Being shoved to the margins, or retreating there voluntarily, would be economic suicide”, he said.
“It would also leave us alone in the world at a time of great uncertainty. Eurosceptics tend to gaze longingly across the Atlantic, but the Americans are interested in us, in large part, because of our sway with our neighbours”, he added.