Where does Clegg now stand on an EU referendum?

The Lib Dems supported a referendum on EU withdrawal in their 2010 manifesto.

With an ever-greater number of Tory MPs demanding a referendum on EU withdrawal, it's worth recalling that one of the three main parties has already promised one - the Lib Dems. The party's 2010 election manifesto stated:

The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in / out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.

As the leaflet below shows, the Lib Dems also campaigned on the issue.

In his speech on Europe yesterday, Clegg denounced the belief that Britain could repatriate powers from the EU as "wishful thinking", adding that "as soon as we start talking about repatriation, we descend into the in-versus-out debate". It is precisely for this reason that the Lib Dems argued for a referendum on withdrawal at the last election. More recently, however, the party has made no mention of the pledge, taking the view that, with the eurozone in crisis, now would be "the wrong time" for a vote.

With Cameron shortly expected to outline plans to hold a referendum after the next election on a "new EU settlement" for Britain, it remains to be seen how Clegg responds. Tory MPs, if not his own party, are unlikely to let him forget his recent support for a vote on membership.

Nick Clegg gives a press conference in Brussels in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.