Clegg Challenges UKIP’s Farage to Public Debate on EU

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg challenged U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage to a public head-to-head debate over whether Britain should stay in the European Union before May’s European Parliament elections.

Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said he’s “very happy and very keen” directly to demonstrate his party’s support of U.K. membership against UKIP’s campaign to withdraw from the 28-nation bloc.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do; I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the European Union,” Clegg said during his weekly LBC radio phone-in today. Farage is due to appear on the same station tomorrow morning.

Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron was cited in an interview in the Times of London newspaper today as saying his party faces the “fight of our lives” in the European elections and that its “very presence in the European Parliament could be at stake” as opinion polls put it behind UKIP.

UKIP’s rise in the polls has helped push Prime Minister David Cameron to a pledge to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU with a referendum on EU membership if he’s re-elected in 2015. Clegg’s party opposes the plan.

Farage will make his position clear on the debate tomorrow, a UKIP spokeswoman said by phone, saying Clegg should make clear if Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband are also invited.

A YouGov Plc poll last month gave UKIP 26 percent support in European Parliament voting intentions, six points behind Labour and three behind Cameron’s Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats on 9 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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