U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage won a second debate on European Union membership with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, according to snap polls, raising pressure on the larger parties that are committed to keeping Britain in the bloc.
The debate in London, screened by the BBC last night, followed one a week earlier that Farage also won, according to the pollsters. This time, YouGov Plc found 68 percent of respondents saying Farage won to 27 percent for Clegg, while ICM Research Ltd. gave it to Farage by 69 percent to 31 percent.
“Let’s free ourselves up and in doing so let’s give an example to the rest of Europe,” Farage said. “I urge people to come and join the people’s army, let’s topple the establishment who led us to this mess.”
Voters go to the polls in Britain in European Parliament elections on May 22. Clegg’s aim in the debates was to boost support among pro-Europeans for his Liberal Democrats. If UKIP, which seeks withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc, performs strongly in those elections, it’s likely to lead to calls from some lawmakers in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party for more anti-EU policies.
“Farage had much the better of it,” Robert Ford, co-author of “Revolt on the Right,” a book about the rise of UKIP, said in an interview. “He had the better lines and in some places the better arguments. He’s got the easier job in some ways -- the anti-EU, anti-establishment, anti-politics argument -- but he still did it very well.”
The debate, which last week focused heavily on jobs, this week took in questions of war and peace and the nature of modern Britain.
“I don’t think we should turn the clock back to a world which doesn’t exist anymore, I think we’re always better when we work with other countries,” Clegg said. “Climate change -- I know Nigel Farage denies climate change exists -- terrorism, crime, all the kind of things we can’t deal with on our own in this modern world of ours.”
Farage was challenged over comments in a recent GQ magazine interview that the world leader he “most admired” was Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the way he’d handled the Syrian crisis last year.
“This isn’t some sort of pub-bar sort of discussion,” Clegg said. “This is a serious issue about how we stop the slaughter, the displacement of millions of people, women and children being sexually abused, terrible violence on an unimaginable scale.”
When Clegg said that Syria had used chemical weapons, Farage replied it hadn’t been proved and widened the debate beyond the EU to remind voters of his opposition to foreign interventions.
“Forty years ago it was a Common Market, now it’s a European Union that wants its own army and navy and air force,” Farage said. “This country is better off not getting involved in endless foreign wars.”
With each man trying to appeal to a different slice of the electorate, both may see a poll boost.
“I don’t buy that it’s a disaster for Clegg,” said Andrew Russell, professor of politics at Manchester University. “He’s not playing for 50 percent of the vote. People who feel hostile to UKIP will at least give him some credit for standing up.”
Cameron, who has pledged a referendum on the EU by the end of 2017 if he wins next year’s general election, said he disagrees with both Farage and Clegg on Europe and favors renegotiation before putting membership to a popular vote.
“The problem with this debate is both of the people taking part have quite extreme views and they’re both wrong,” Cameron said in an interview with BBC TV this morning. “The right answer is to be tough for Britain, renegotiate, get a better deal and then give people the choice in an in-out referendum.”
Britain needs to trade and compete with Europe and UKIP’s “stop the world, I want to get off” position will not deliver that, the premier said.
YouGov questioned 1,016 respondents for its poll, while ICM spoke to 1,458 viewers. Neither company specified a margin of error.