The morning after the government’s defeat on the EU budget, Nick Clegg has offered his own advice on the British negotiating position. The Deputy Prime Minister gave a speech to Chatham House in which he said that pushing for a real-terms cut in the budget – which is what 307 MPs including 53 Conservative rebels voted for last night – is ‘unrealistic’. Clegg framed his attack on this negotiating position by focusing on Labour rather than Tory MPs. He said:
‘Yet it was Labour who agreed to the last long-term EU budget settlement, which saw a major jump in EU spending and lost part of the UK’s rebate in exchange for virtually no real EU spending reforms. And British taxpayers have suffered the consequences ever since, with our net contributions going from less than €3bn in 2008 to more than €7bn in 2011. Who were two of the Labour MPs to vote for it? Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. Who was the Europe Minister? Douglas Alexander.
‘Their change of heart is dishonest, it’s hypocritical. And worst of all, Labour’s plan would cost the taxpayer more, not less. Because in pushing a completely unrealistic position on the EU budget – one that is miles away from any other country’s position – Labour would have absolutely no hope of getting a budget deal agreed.’
Clegg emphasised that he and the Prime Minister are ‘united’ in holding ‘the toughest position of any European country’ in calling for a real-terms freeze, telling the audience during the ensuing question-and-answer session that there was ‘not a cigarette paper’ between himself and the PM.
But where he was keen to distance himself from the Tories was on the issue of Britain’s position in Europe, and the current debate over which European law and order measures Britain should permanently opt out of.