News24

Clegg warns of uncertainty over Europe

2013-01-15 19:55

London - Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned his boss David Cameron on Tuesday that a prolonged period of uncertainty about Britain's relationship with the EU would have a "chilling effect" on the economy.

Clegg's comments come ahead of Cameron's long-awaited speech on Friday setting out his plans to change the conditions of Britain's membership, and likely promising a referendum after the general election in 2015.

"We should be very careful at a time when the British economy is still haltingly recovering from the worst economic shock in a generation to create a very high degree, and a prolonged period, of uncertainty," Clegg told the BBC.

Cameron is under pressure from eurosceptic members of his Conservative party to try to take back powers from Brussels to London, but the issue has caused tensions with business leaders and Clegg's pro-European Liberal Democrats, the coalition partners.

In a tetchy interview, Clegg noted that a law was already in place requiring such a vote where any new treaty transferred fresh powers to the EU.

Any further discussion about referenda was unwise, he said.

'Blackmail'

"Given that we've provided that clarity... I don't think it is wise to add to that with a degree of uncertainty which I believe would have a chilling effect on jobs and growth in this country," he said.

"And for me the priority remains jobs and growth, not an arcane debate which will go on for years and years."

German politicians have accused Britain of trying to blackmail its European partners by warning that either it changes its membership conditions or proposes to increasingly eurosceptic voters that London leave the EU altogether.

Clegg said: "I obviously don't agree with the premise that we can, on our own, unilaterally, simply rewrite the terms of our membership of this European club.

"We do not know yet how the rules are going to be rewritten within the eurozone. We don't know when that will happen, in what way and crucially we do not know what that will ask of the United Kingdom."