Nick Clegg hints at dropping opposition to EU referendum

Lib Dem leader’s coalition ‘red line’ issues do not include ruling out vote on membership

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg accused the Conservatives of vacillating over the UK’s EU role. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg accused the Conservatives of vacillating over the UK’s EU role. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

 

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has opened the prospect of conceding to the Conservatives’ demand for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Mr Clegg has set down a series of “red lines” issues for entering a coalition – extra money for the National Health Service and schools, more pay for public sector workers, higher taxes on the wealthy – but repeatedly refused to add a referendum veto to the list.

Campaigning in the final days of the campaign has become particularly aggressive as all of the major parties seek to secure an advantage that could be crucial in the negotiations that are likely to follow.

Mr Clegg, who has served as deputy prime minister for five years, accused the Conservatives of vacillating over the UK’s EU role.

“First, they said they didn’t want to go on about it, then we legislated for it, then they said they’d renegotiate,” he said.

“They won’t tell us who they will renegotiate, then they said they might leave if they don’t get what they want in that ill-defined renegotiation, then they said they might stay after all then they said 2017 now I read maybe 2016.”

In-out choice

David Cameron last night insisted again that he would not become prime minister unless he could deliver a referendum that would offer a better deal and an in-out choice.

“We’ve had so many powers passed to Brussels. It’s now time to make a change, have a better approach for Britain in Europe and for the British people to decide,” he said.

“The real point is if you don’t have a plan for Europe, Britain will just drift towards the exit. The other parties are sticking their head in the sand thinking this issue will go away. It won’t.”

Mr Clegg’s signalling exposes in public machinations that were going on for months inside the Liberal Democrats, though it is not guaranteed that he could get the membership to accept such a deal.

‘Free and fair’

Meanwhile, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said he was not “confident” Mr Cameron would present “a free and fair” referendum. He said: “Both sides have to have the same spending limits ... There needs to be an ombudsman to make sure organisations like the BBC give both sides .”

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said Labour leader Ed Miliband’s repeated declarations that he would not reach a post-election deal with the SNP would appal “traditional Labour voters”.

“He seemed to say that he would rather see the Conservatives back in office and turn his back on the chance to be prime minister than work with the SNP and I think people would find that very, very hard to believe and hard to accept,” she told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme.

Ms Sturgeon also said that even if the SNP won every seat in Scotland on Thursday, “we would not take that as a mandate for a further referendum” on independence.

She said: “This election is about giving Scotland a louder voice in Westminster.”