PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on Europe

by Stephen Tall on March 5, 2008

This was always going to be a tricky Prime Minister’s Questions for Nick Clegg, given the delight both Labour and the Tories take in ganging up on the Lib Dems in Parliament. In fact, as in previous weeks, Nick easily withstood the yelling and abuse from the other benches, and was able to ask clear and punchy questions on the subject of the week: Europe.

Fairness demands I note that Gordon Brown is improving at PMQs – his reponses to Nick were pretty sharp, and he also seems to be getting the measure of David Cameron in their sparring sessions. Judge for yourselves below.

Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister once said that he would, “build a wider pro-European movement in Britain”. How does he think he can achieve that by colluding with the anti-European Conservatives to block the in-out referendum that the British people really want?

The Prime Minister: By not walking out of the House of Commons, for a start. By not saying that there is a principle in abstention when it comes to a European issue. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we will lead the agenda on the future of Europe, and that we will lead on the environment, international development, the approach to globalisation and security. There is not much principle in recommending abstention.

Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister talks about leadership, but the fact is that he has bottled it and, as far as I can make out, the leader of the Conservatives wants to leave the European Union but has not got the guts to say it. Is not the truth that this country will never lead in Europe until politicians who believe in the European Union have the courage to stand up for it, and politicians who want to leave it are flushed out in an honest debate on our membership?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman entirely. The Conservative party leadership is being driven by the Eurosceptics on the Back Benches. I also agree with him that we need to put the pro-European case in the country, but I have to say that to go back to the 1970s and re-live a referendum in the 1970s is not the way to plan for the future. The way to plan for the future is to have an agenda for a global Europe, which is exactly what this Government have.