Clegg warns that referendum not in national interest
UK REACTION:The United Kingdom faces “years and years of uncertainty” following British prime minister David Cameron’s decision to pledge an in/out European Union referendum in five years’ time, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has warned.
The biggest challenge facing the UK is economic, not its EU membership terms, said Mr Clegg: “Now that job is made all the harder if we have years of grinding uncertainty because of an ill-defined, protracted renegotiation of Britain’s status within the European Union.”
However, Mr Cameron has received plaudits from Conservative Eurosceptic MPs, with one, former defence secretary Liam Fox, saying that it was a speech “we’ve been waiting for a British prime minister to say for decades”.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, which wants the UK to quit the EU, said Mr Cameron’s call for “a flexible, more adaptable, more democratic EU” was something British prime ministers had been seeking for 50 years.
“Clearly he’s not listening to what the other heads of state and what the European Commission and the European Council are saying. It’s perfectly clear in Brussels that they’re heading at full tilt towards a full political union,” he declared. Nevertheless, he welcomed the referendum pledge, saying that “the battle lines have been drawn”.
“[It] marks a fundamental change in the national debate in this country. The genie is out of the bottle and it is not going to be put back.”
Former Labour cabinet minister Peter Mandelson said Mr Cameron had made “a much more uncompromising speech” than had been expected. “It’s not a search together in unity with our partners in Europe. Effectively, it’s an ultimatum to them with a deadline,” he said.
Looking back to Mr Cameron’s 2005 declaration that the Conservatives “couldn’t keep banging on about Europe”, Lord Mandelson said he was seeking to please “those in his party who he used to call fruit-cakes and head bangers”.
Clearly delighted, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said Mr Cameron had “completely changed” the Scottish independence referendum debate, since now it was the Conservatives who were endangering Scotland’s place in the EU.
Up to now, Mr Salmond’s opponents have been arguing that a Yes vote for independence would threaten Scotland’s EU membership: “ has now helped to hole below the waterline that baseless scaremongering,” he said.