U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told business leaders to expect a battle over Britain’s relationship with the European Union in the coming months and urged them to make the case against leaving the bloc.
In an after-dinner speech yesterday at his Liberal Democrat Party’s annual conference in Brighton, on England’s south coast, Clegg said the continuing crisis among countries using the single European currency could lead them to turn in on themselves and to calls for Britain to pull away.
“It is an illusion to think that there is a future for our country economically and politically to somehow stand aside from the fray,” Clegg said. “We’re compelled by our history to seek to lead and not follow, to shape the debate.”
A former member of the European Parliament, Clegg leads the most pro-European of the three main political parties. Their coalition partners, the Conservatives, have been increasingly hostile in the past decade, with almost a third of Prime Minister David Cameron’s lawmakers defying him in Parliament last year to vote in favor of holding a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
Clegg told his audience that business should be arguing for membership of the EU and that they should expect the issue to be a live debate soon. “There will be catalysts to set it off in the coming months,” he said.