Where do the Lib Dems, the most pro-European party in British politics, stand on last night’s extraordinary events? William Hague told the Today programme that Nick Clegg had “signed up” to the deal but it would be nice to hear from the man himself. Six weeks ago, Clegg, a former Eurocrat and MEP, warned against the emergence of a “a weaker and divisive Europe where the aims of ‘euro-ins’ are set against those of ‘euro-outs'” but that’s exactly what’s happened.
Lib Dem rebel Matthew Oakeshott has already described this as “a black day for Britain and for Europe”, attacking Cameron for appeasing the “special interests in the City of London”. More will surely break ranks. One suspects that David Owen, the former leader of the SDP, who is now a crossbench peer, spoke for many in Clegg’s party when he said:
We have to ask ourselves why the government has allowed us to get into this mess. Have we been coherently governed over the last few months? Is this coalition able to represent British interests? Or are we being driven by about 80 to 90 Conservatives who want us to get out of the EU?
If Clegg really has accepted the emergence of a two-speed Europe, it would represent his biggest U-turn to date.
Update: Clegg has now issued a statement on last night’s events. Here’s the key section:
I regret that last night it proved to be impossible to find a way forward as a group of 27 on European treaty change.
I have said for months that it would be best to avoid arcane debates about treaty change altogether and if we had to proceed down that road, it would be best to do so in a way that did not create divisions in Europe
The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the Coalition Government was united, were modest and reasonable. They were safeguards for the single market, not just the UK.