Friday

20th Jan 2017

Focus

Farage and Clegg clash in long-awaited EU debate

  • Nick Clegg went head to head with Nigel Farage on Wednesday (Photo: Liberal Democrats)

On Wednesday evening (26 March), courtesy of LBC radio, the BBC and Sky, the UK public were treated to something UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed his party had "waited a very long time for": a head-to-head debate between Farage and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on Britain's membership of the European Union.

It should have featured the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties, too, but they made their excuses weeks ago. Labour's Ed Miliband had called any such debate a "sideshow", and UK prime minister David Cameron, in contrast to deputy prime minister Clegg, said he was "too busy running the country". "Well, he's certainly running from something," quipped Farage.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

As a debate, it was quick, slick, and towards the end, a little sweaty. But despite the heat generated, there was not too much in the way of light. Figures and stats were chucked around like so much mud. And cheap shots were never too far away. Still, by the debate's close, the antagonists' main positions had at least become clear.

As Clegg reiterated during almost every question, be it on immigration or the role of the European Court of Human Rights, Britain's membership of the EU was vital because it provided jobs and "clout".

"If we cut ourselves off from Europe," he said, "our hard-won economic recovery will simply be thrown away." People will lose their jobs, he insisted. Investors will look elsewhere, other European countries won't be as co-operative, and the advantages of belonging to a huge trading bloc will disappear.

This then was Clegg's main appeal to the public. Stay in the EU or the economy has had it.

Farage did try to counter Clegg's sometimes scary rhetoric. "How many jobs [is UKIP] prepared to lose if we leave the EU – 3 million, 2 million, 500,000?," asked Clegg. Farage countered that "foreign investment is important, of course it is", but it is coming into the UK at "a greater rate than it is to countries inside the Eurozone". There is nothing to fear, and everything to gain from an EU exit, he claimed.

But like Clegg, it was UKIP's main argument against EU membership that kept re-emerging through the fog of the particular answers: "the best people to govern Britain are the British people themselves".

At every stage, Farage sought out this position.

On trade, he argued, Britain should be in a position to negotiate its own trade deals, not have the EU do it on its behalf; on the ECHR, Britain should be in a position to administer its own criminal justice system, and not have Strasbourg interfere; on immigration, Britain should be in a position to police its own borders and not have them forced open to nearly 500 million EU citizens (although Farage was particularly concerned with those countries previously "trapped behind the iron curtain" – Romania, Bulgaria).

Clegg was at pains to characterise this as UKIP's 'anti-EU dogma': "I'm not prepared to see anyone lose their jobs at the altar of Nigel Farage's anti-European dogma," he said at one point; "We shouldn't be sacrificing a single job just to satisfy [UKIP's] dogmatic view," he said at another.

Towards the end, Farage tired of Clegg's accusation of dogmatism, and repeated himself: "I will tell you what the dogma is: the best people to govern Britain are the British people themselves, and not the EU."

It was that kind of debate.

What had emerged by the end of the debate was not a set of clear, opposing policies, but two incommensurable positions. One in favour of continued EU membership on the pragmatic grounds of economic security; the other in favour of an EU exit on the principled grounds of national sovereignty.

There was something else, too. Throughout, Clegg talked of the importance of "facts". "We owe it to you [the audience], we owe it to everyone, to ensure that these debates are at least based on facts." The implication of Clegg's appeal was clear: UKIP is the party of untruths and fantasies, as Clegg attempted to show by pointing out a UKIP local election pamphlet which asserted that there were more Romanian immigrants heading Britain's way than there were actual Romanians – cue audience guffaws.

But in many ways this attempt to bash UKIP into the ground with "the facts", to present it as borderline delusional, as beyond the political pale, rather than defeat it with principled, political arguments, played into Farage's hands.

It allowed him to present himself as the political outsider, a man apart from the 'the career politician', a man with experience of the world beyond 'the political bubble of Westminster', a man from whom the likes of Clegg – or "you lot" as Farage called them throughout – are running scared.

And viewers seemed to agree. In a snap, after-show YouGov poll, 57 per cent thought that Nigel Farage had performed best compared to 36 per cent for Nick Clegg.

Clegg has a chance to make amends, though. A second live debate is to be held next Wednesday (2 April).

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  2. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  4. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  7. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  8. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  9. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle
  10. ACCAFifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  11. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election