Lib Dem leader Clegg says Farage not telling truth about effect of EU exit
UK Independence Party leader focuses on impact of immigration in EU debate
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg take part in a debate over Britain’s future in the European Union on Wednesday night. Photograph: Ian West/WPA Pool / Getty Images
Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg last night
accused UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage of telling “untruths” about the effect a European Union exit would have on the UK.
During an hour-long live radio debate, broadcast on London’s LBC, Mr Clegg emphasised the economic effects of an EU exit, while Mr Farage focused on the impact of eastern European immigration.
Just six weeks before the European Parliament elections, Mr Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said: “I want us to be Great Britain, not Little England.” Referring 35 times to “jobs” and quoting the warnings of multinationals about an EU exit, Mr Clegg said: “Labour and the Conservatives will do nothing to stop us getting to the exit.”
He questioned Mr Farage’s truthfulness. “We have heard again and again the wrong facts. We owe it to the people to base the debate on facts.”
Opinion was divided on who had won the debate, though one of Ukip’s MEPs, Godfrey Bloom, had earlier said Mr Farage had to win by a side margin. However, both may gain from the exposure, since it places them at the heart of the debate, rather than Labour and the Conservatives.
Mr Farage has rarely gone head-to-head with British politicians and was challenged to the debate by Mr Clegg. The Ukip leader said the EU had changed beyond recognition in the past 40 years and membership was now “the most important constitutional question we have faced for 300 years”.
Mr Farage, who condemned the European arrest warrant, was pressed to explain why Ukip had voted against EU laws that give tourists from member states more legal rights in other EU countries. He said he had never “voted once in favour of a single piece of legislation that increases the commission’s power base”.
Mr Clegg sought to portray Mr Farage as being dogmatic in his opposition to the UK’s EU membership, rather than acting in its best interests.
Opposing gay marriage in the UK – the first ceremony will take place on Saturday – Mr Farage said he feared the European Convention on Human Rights could force churches to marry gay people.
Mr Clegg, who led the push to legalise gay marriage, said: “I find it extraordinary that Ukip’s anti-Europeanism is so great they would vote against loving couples.”