Coffee House

Nick Clegg’s opposition to renegotiation could risk the UK’s EU membership

1 November 2012

5:33 PM

1 November 2012

5:33 PM

Nick Clegg this morning fell into the usual ‘all or nothing’ fallacy on Europe. He said: ‘As soon as we start talking about repatriation, we descend into the in-versus-out debate.’ But the Deputy Prime Minister is wrong: the in/out debate is already underway, and rather than seek to defend the unpopular status quo, Nick Clegg should back renegotiation as the best option for those who wish to put the UK’s membership on a stable democratic footing.

But instead of attempting to address the causes for the EU’s unpopularity, the inflated budget, democracy deficit and bureaucracy etc. Nick Clegg sought to channel the debate into his own in/out debate where the problems of ‘out’ justify doing nothing about the problems of ‘in’.

Clegg said that UK can either be a full member of the EU or outside, like Norway and Switzerland. He is right that Norway as a member of the EEA does indeed implement a large proportion of EU law over which it has little influence and that Switzerland does not have full access for its services industries. He also pointed out that with no EU deal ‘firms who currently pay no import tariffs on the goods they send to the continent would be faced with taxes of up to 22 per cent’.  It is actually more like 10 per cent but the point is the same. However, protesting that no one is suggesting joining the EEA or not having a free trade deal with the EU is missing the point. Nick Clegg is presenting a false choice.


There is not one standard EU membership. The UK is not in the Schengen travel area, others are. The UK has a different deal on EU crime and police law than Denmark, which is fully opted out. There are neutral states and those involved in EU defence, there is the euro, the list goes on. But for Clegg there are only two types.

‘There’s the core: where the Eurozone countries are now pulling together more closely… Then there is the ring around that… And the outer circle… The UK is in the inner circle – but the terrain is shifting. The core is tightening – to what degree we don’t yet know.’

Clegg believes we should remain ‘a strong UK, influential in Europe’, but does not define what he wants to influence or convincingly explain why we should be in anything beyond the single market and some absolutely vital cross-border measures. Clegg’s reasoning:

‘What kind of club gives you a full pass, with all the perks, but doesn’t expect you to pay the full membership fee or abide by all the rules?’

This is an odd justification for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, social and employment regulation, wasteful regional policy and unnecessary loss of democratic control. Are these accepted as some bizarre self-imposed flagellation for daring to desire free trade? If so, why not just accept a rise in the EU budget and get on with it? It’s the ‘subscription’ fee after all.

So what should the UK aim for? In a recent paper we set out that for now the UK benefits from being in the EU’s customs union and single market for good and services but that all other areas should be decided on a case by case basis. Is this pick -and-mix EU possible? Yes. The EU, as Clegg acknowledges, is changing. The eurozone is renegotiating its membership terms, and the treaties will need to be revisited sooner or later. This will present the UK with the opportunity to reform its membership terms and put it on a stable democratic foundation in line with public opinion.

Christopher Howarth is senior political analyst at Open Europe.

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Show comments
  • JorgeG

    This piece contains the usual array of factual errors around the EU and opt-outs, although coming from someone that belongs to the ‘think tank’ Open Europe is hardly surprising. When you have a strong agenda you cherry pick the bits of reality that suit your agenda and discard the rest.

    “There is not one standard EU membership. The UK is not in the Schengen travel area, others are. ”

    This is highly misleading and you could have not choose a worse example than Schengen. In fact ALL EU members without exception (except the UK, in turn forcing Ireland to follow suit for obvious geopolitical reasons), plus EEA members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are either MEMBERS of Schengen, 26 of them, or legally bound to join by accession treaty, i.e. Romania and Bulgaria – held back due to Netherlands veto – and Cyprus, held back by issues around Turkish Northern Cyprus.

    If you look at the Eurozone, 24 of 27 EU members are in or bound to join, hardly the three outsiders could be termed as forming a ‘standard’ outlier group, this would be the case if you had 2/3s in and 1/3 out at the very least, but not when you have a vast majority of INs and a 10% minority of OUTs.

    The policy of ‘renegotiation itself is childish and unrealistic, thanks to N. Clegg to be the only one with guts to point that out, whatever you think of the LibDems as a whole.

    This policy is akin to a child looking with disdain at their untouched main course and saying: “Mummy, can I have my pudding now?”, to which the mother’s default response would be:”you won’t have any pudding unless you eat your main course”. To which the child replies, while starting a tantrum: “Can we do a deal? I will eat two spoonfuls of my main course and then I will have two helpings of my pudding. If you don’t agree I will get my teddy bears to have a vote on the matter and you will see that they are all on my side”. The mother, starts losing her patience: “eat your dinner now or you will not have any pudding today or ever”!!!!!! “and I don’t care what your teddy bears say….”

  • grez

    Am just wondering how much that 10% import tariff amounts too. If it’s less than the UK’s contribution to the EU budget, we don’t even need a common market.

    • razzysmum

      Spouting tariffs is nonsense because if they put a 10% tariff on our goods we would put a 10% tariff on their goods and we BUY more than we SELL in Europe and they would be the losers. Would they want to lose our market especially while in a financial mess?
      Clegg needs to go back to school or get a job in the real world and grow up. He talks out of the back of his head (I’m being polite here).

  • Nigel Birkett

    Forget about the EU. What was wrong with the British Commonwealth? That effectively went out the window when the UK joined the EC. Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa etc. That would make a powerful economic bloc.

  • Heartless etc.,

    What a vile little cloud of delusion this person is!

  • Rockin Ron

    George Osborne on the Today programme seemed to be saying something along the lines that he and David Cameron wanted a real terms reduction in the EU Budget, but as that wasn’t realistic, they were prepared to settle for a freeze. This is moral cowardice. If you believe in something, get passionate about it, campaign, argue and push for it. David Cameron and George Osborne seemed to have given in before the negotiations have even begun! Much better to go in with what you really want, because that way you may attract others and be successful in agreeing something you can live with. Just don’t understand their approach to negotiation. George Osborne seemed to be saying it was ‘Deal or No Deal’ but we have to argue the case for what deal is acceptable. Isn’t that what politics is about?

  • Daniel Tekel Thomas

    If Nick Clegg’s opposition to re-negotiation puts our EU membership at risk then hopefully he’ll do us all a favour keep opposing.
    He has to keep opposing anyway or he’ll lose his taxpayer funded Europension.

  • Dan1763

    Clegg is right. It is Cameron and Hague talking nonsense. The Conservative position is it is Absoloutly in the vital national interest that we stay in the club called the EU. It is also in our vital national interest that we totally change the rules of the EU and invent a special status for Britain of in, but none of the rules apply to us because well we are Britain!

    We should probably get out, if we want to stay in, we need to admit what we are staying in. It was always intended to be an ever closer union, it was always much more than a customs union.

  • Austin Barry

    You can sense, can’t you, that somehow we’ve all let Clegg down.

    He seems weepy and distraught that his wet dream of a happy, Disneyland Europe is dying through its own inherent idiocy, corruption and anti-democratic zeal – or communism as we used to call it.

    I guess that we’re all so sorry, so so sorry, that we’ve let you down Nick. Now go and have a comforting cup of sweet tea and a ginger nut, you sad apology for a Deputy Prime Minister.

  • Daniel Maris

    The Yawnathon continues.

  • Watcher

    Nick is manfully pursuing his long-term goal of an EU commissioners job with perks & pension. He chose the Limp-dems rather than the Tories, on his return from Brussels, because of the latter’s Euro-scepticism. Choosing the coalition was good for him bad for his party, he knew he would get good EU credentials when seen battling the enemy from within as opposed to being a voice in the wilderness. The rest of the Limp-dems have been sold down the river.

  • Bruce, UK

    Clegg. Where to start?

    Pension, the EU rules tell him he has to suck up (and boy he should be on bonus) or potentially lose the tax free money. Obviously, no conflict of interest there. Some might say anyone of honour could not take a seat in Parliament, but hey it’s Clegg; however, I think the Hallamites will fix that dilemma for him.

    Future parasitic activity (I almost said employment). My betting is that Clegg wants to replace the Useless Ashton as the even more useless (and Dangerous) Clegg. And he can’t do that if the UK does not maintain its current level of engagement (good luck with that Euro thing BTW Cleggy).

    So he has to say what he says because he is a dishonourable piece of ordure or as it is also expressed a LibDem.

  • Archimedes

    Clegg has been silly.

    It’s a little funny for him to be talking about influence when he has needlessly antagonised Tory eurosceptics, and eurosceptics throughout the country, so quickly after yesterdays Common’s vote. It seems pretty likely that the EU budget will not be agreed, likely by a UK veto. Imagine the outrage in the country, when the budget rises regardless, and imagine the political capital up for grabs when that happens. So, instead of allowing himself to be on the side where he could condemn the EU budget, which would be perfectly acceptable to europhiles anyway, he has to be on the side effectively supporting it.

    Can the coalition last in that scenario? I doubt it: he’ll find himself without ‘influence’ as it were, in an election fought on vicious euro-scepticism, followed by a swift and antagonistic exit.

    Cameron’s opportunity to get a majority.

  • Adrian Drummond

    Glegg is a fifth columnist.

  • Richard 111

    It looks like Clegg is amongst the best recruiting sergeants for those who want to be “Out”. If you believe the current relationship is unsustainable then there are only two options – further integration or renegotiation. If you then block meaningful renegotiation, then it becomes “A European State” or “Out”.
    So is the current relationship sustainable? It is certainly unpopular and appears to be growingly so over a long term. It is almost certain there will have to be a new treaty in the relatively short term which will make changes to our current relationship. The efforts to shore up the euro are likely to place strains on an already unstable position.
    I have personally moved from a strong advocate of membership in 1972, through annoyance of what was happening in the early 1980s, mild scepticism in the late 80s / early 90s, opposition to us joining the euro in the late 90’s, disbelief regarding the incompetetence of the Commissioner at the present time. I now consider we are on a trajectory of “Out” unless the UK politicians can renegotiate a more acceptable settlement within the next few years.

  • HellforLeather

    Why waste so much time, effort, emotion, comment on Clegg? He’s gone come the next election, if not before.

    It would be useful if someone could get that MP “recall” mechanism back in motion — epetition anyone? — I’d bet Clegg would be first to fall.

  • chudsmania

    ‘What kind of club gives you a full pass, with all the perks, but
    doesn’t expect you to pay the full membership fee or abide by all the

    Shock horror . I have something to say to Clegg , if i want to join a club , i read the rules and etiquette then make a reasoned decision as to whether i join or not and the cost/loss benefits are factored into this. I’m afraid Cleggy boy , myself and millions of other havent been asked yet , and whilst your at it resign pronto and join the huge throng of gravy-trainers where you once worked (i use the word worked ‘loosely’)

    • telemachus

      I distinctly remember voting in a referendum in the70’s to join pay the fees and enjoy the benefits
      When the going gets tough you tough it out
      Better to moan and influence from within than forever bemoan a powerful behemoth on our doorstep distorting our economy with their every move without any imput from us
      The world has changed
      No one can go it alone

      • James Randall

        I thought the referendum was to join the EEC, largely a free trade area. It has since transformed itself through a number a different treaties into a wannabe state. It is this change that creates the problem as this is not the body that the populous was presented with at the time of the referendum.

        • telemachus

          All organisations evolve and change
          I recall that we voted in these changes as thy happened

          • Mike

            From the beginning the aim was to produce a United Staes of Europe , however the pro- Euro part of the FCO and Heath lied about the aims and the loss of sovereignity. Most people who voted did so in order to join a free trade area not another country. I suggest you read Peter Shore’s ” Separate Ways” about the history of the UK’s involvement in Europe . A major factor is the FCOs loss of nerve after Suez . I suggest you speak to the fishermen who lostt out due to the Common Fishing Policy.

            Your forget that the UK had a referendum to join the EEC. The reality is that the politicians and civil servants who founded the EEC actually had a distruct of people voting on their future. If the UK could return to the state of the EEC that existed in 1973 most people would be happy. The reality is that the EEC has changed since 1973 and as the vast majority of seen what has happened they have become sceptical. It is simply people have used their powers of perception and reason and increasingly come to the conclusion the EU is more trouble than it’s worth.

            • telemachus

              Folks are beguiled by the bombast of a few self serving little englanders
              The forget the economic damage and unemployment that will flow without free unfettered access to Europe
              We do not even have a useful economic Commonwealth to fall back on
              The City(11% of our economy would be killed
              Buffon Boris would rule

        • Andy

          You are right: the referendum was to join the EEC, which was actually a Customs Union, not a free trade area. You are right again that we did not vote, and nor have any of the people of Europe, to turn the EEC into some wannabe state, and on current form a wannabe Fascist state at that. These things have been arrogantly imposed upon the people of Europe and some of the consequences of these grand delusions can be clearly seen in places like Greece.

          • telemachus

            They were not imposed
            You agreed tham or at least did not throw out your leders that did

            • James Randall

              The issue is that General Elections by their very nature are about more than one single issue.

      • chudsmania

        Ask us (in-out ref) , or isnt democracy your thing ? I’ll abide by the result either way , would you also ?

        • telemachus

          Referenda and plebiscites served democracy well in Europe in the 1930’s.
          Count me out

          • Andy

            So how you going to square the circle ? Seems clear that there is a majority amongst our people who want to leave the EU. We should follow that majority then ? All political parties do not represent those views and wishes. So how is the voice of the people actually to be heard ???

            • telemachus

              The majority of people want to bring back hanging
              We rely on those who know better to act in our best interests

              • John Adlington

                Like you?

                • Dimoto

                  Why are you fools allowing an obvious troll to set the terms for the debate on this (rather sensible piece) ?!

                • telemachus


                • RichieP

                  It’s really time people here stopped feeding the troll.

      • peter rowe

        I voted for a trading block – not an unelected state, accountable to no one, run by ex-communists like Barosso and incompetent socialists like the Kinnock’s. Time to vote: In or out.

        • telemachus

          Neil was the best PM we never had.
          Pertinent is
          “You cant’t play politics with people’s jobs and peoples lives”

          • Richard 111

            Do you mean Neil Marten, the MP for Banbury, who clearly saw the way the then EEC was going at the time of the referendum. I thought he was being over dramatic at the time, but Heath, Wilson, Thorpe et al were at best economical with the truth.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I distinctly remember that what we joined was rather different from what we have now. It was a Common Market not a EuropeanUnion. But I expect you have forgotten. Old men forget, don’t you know? But I don’t.

        • telemachus

          The vicar will be upset at me arguing with myself so I will not respond

      • Dimoto

        You either haven’t actually read the blog-post, or you agree with Clegg that it’s a simple in-out decision. You are way off the Labour message with this one. Prepare to be chastised.

        • telemachus

          What message
          Read some of Ed Balls stuff

  • 2trueblue

    Shows that Clegg has no idea how to negotiate, you get up and tell the EU what we think we can not have. Brilliant. For goodness sake get him out of here and post him back to the EU, he is of no use to us at all.
    The whole thing is off the wall. There is little point being a member of an organisation if all they are interested in is what money they can get off you, and as much as possible.

  • toco10

    The EU as presently constituted simply does not work for the UK and we can either cave in and allow Brussels to run our lives or say enough is enough.When even a single country finds it impossible to reach a consensus on the EU how on earth can 27 expect to succeed.As for the Euro it will never work and is doomed to failure-Germany has derived benefit because it has allowed countries such as Greece to buy its BMW and Mercedes motor vehicles but even Germany now realises this is no longer sustainable and it will ultimately be relieved to return to the Deutschmark.
    The status quo is for the fairies and the fat cats who hang out in Brussels stealing our hard earned cash.

  • David Lindsay

    Yet more CCHQ press release drivel. Clegg is expressing the real view of both Coalition parties. There are more Lib Dem MPs than the total number of Conservative rebels last night. Read that last sentence over again.

  • Barbara Stevens

    NIck Clegg as always been a lover of Europe, he was brought up there. His problem is he thinks we shoukd accept whatever they want, say or do. We are in a European club, one that is coming far to expensive to furnish and supporting unelected boffins. They spend money like smarites and have no compuction to cease their spending and make cuts. You cannot keep asking for more while doing that. Clegg’s assumption is we all like this Union, we don’t and half the nation haven’t had the chance to vote on it for over 50 years or more. The majority now don’t like its dictitorial attitude, its silly laws that come by the barrowful, and its attitude to each countries governments. We elect governments to lead us, but we don’t need or want another layer of government at all, I don’t like the EU, never have and voted NO the first time, and with hindsight I now see I was right. This nation will never totally surrender it’s freedom, and Cameron should now know what he has to do. If he fails he is doomed. We want out and the sooner MPs accept this the better, but its taking an awful long time for then to realise it. Many may lose their seats at the next election, Clegg being the most promising one, if Sheffield has any sense.

    • Dimoto

      Well done.
      With your “lover of Europe” clap-trap, you help Clegg make his false argument.

      • Barbara Stevens

        No I expose him and his party for what they are, and not in tune with the majority of this country. Its true Clegg loves Europe, he was brought up there, and believes we should all love it the same, we don’t. Its him that cannot see the unrest Europe is creating in this country. We simply, need to decide for ourselves.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Does Open Europe know how we would negotiate a repatriation of powers? No, I thought not, not without a stretch of the imagination which would defeat the provisions of Hook’s Law.

    • Hatim at-Ta’iy

      Yes,quite right Rhoda…and note how the amorphous renegotiation meme is parrotted by some other ‘new’ commenters.

      “Nick Clegg should back renegotiation as the best option for those who wish to put the UK’s membership on a stable democratic footing.”
      Nonsense. Renegotiation would amount to nothing Please provide ONE example of negotiation undertaken by a member state with EU institutions that has resulted in the successful repatriatriation of EU acquis.