UK & World News
Nick Clegg Attacks UKIP In Pro-Europe Speech
"Pulling up the drawbridge" and leaving Europe would wreck Britain's economy, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned.
The Liberal Democrat leader used his speech at the party's spring conference to attack what he called the "backwards-looking politics" he claims has emerged during the debate about Britain's membership of the European Union.
"The politics of blame has found an acceptable face: it wears a big smile and looks like someone you could have a pint with down the pub," he said, a clear reference to UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
His populist touch has been identified as one of the reasons behind his party's rise in support, a surge that has seen the Lib Dems pushed into fourth place in the opinion polls.
The pair will face off in two debates ahead of May's European elections, a vote Mr Farage has said his party can win.
Mr Clegg's address to the party faithful sought to position the Lib Dems as the "only party of in" and rally the troops ahead of the campaign, telling them to "forget the lazy assumption that, in the court of public opinion, the eurosceptics will automatically win".
He pledged: "I am going to defend the tolerant and modern Britain we love, and I am going to start by showing people what's at stake in the upcoming European elections: do you want Britain in Europe or out?
"That's the real question in May. One party wants out. Another is flirting with exit. The other lot don't have the courage of their convictions on this - they're saying nothing at all."
Mr Clegg acknowledged the financial crisis and the rise of China and other emerging nations had led to an "entirely understandable but dangerous urge to turn inwards".
But he claimed withdrawing from Europe would hamper efforts to tackle climate change, make it harder to catch international criminals and diminish Britain's standing on the world stage.
While he admitted the EU needs reform, Mr Clegg said this could not be achieved with "one foot out of the door", a dig at the Conservatives.
"You change it by taking your place at the table, which is where you protect Britain's national interest and promote our values too," he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants to renegotiate the UK's links with Brussels and hold an in/out referendum on membership of the EU if the Conservatives win the next election.
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