As Nick Clegg’s star appears to rise, it is entirely right that other parties should draw attention to the damaging nature of Lib-Dem policies. We in the Conservative Party have pointed out that the Lib-Dems supported the defunct EU Constitution; supported the Lisbon Treaty (which amounts to the EU Constitution Mark 2); support (and indeed claim credit for) the EU Arrest Warrant, which is denying some UK citizens the most basic legal rights; and even favour scrapping the Pound and having Britain join the failing euro project. In fact the Lib-Dems have a knee-jerk response to any EU proposal: Vote Yes.
And Nick Clegg’s answer to these accusations? Shocking, even by the mendacious standards of the Lib-Dems. He asks (and I quote from today’s papers) “Do we really think we can pull up the drawbridge, and (that) ranting and raving from the sidelines is really going to help us be stronger and safer?”
Who are these people who want to “pull up the drawbridge and rant and rave from the sidelines”? There may be a few in some fringe parties, but none that I have met in the Conservative Party. We are a Party of free trade, and not given to pulling up drawbridges. We would like to see global free trade, but failing that, free trade across Europe is a good start (although many of us regret that the EU is, of course, not a free trade area but a customs union). We are an internationalist Party (although unlike the Lib-Dems, we recognise that there is a world beyond Brussels). So we are strongly in favour of international cooperation, both with EU countries and with non-EU countries, in dealing with all the issues that cross borders, like crime, terrorism, trade, pollution and so on.
So where are our differences with Clegg? Simply that while we want trade and cooperation, we also want to participate as a free, independent and democratic nation, not as an off-shore province in a quasi-country called Europe, which is neither democratic nor accountable. The EU has a malign momentum of its own, and (as we have seen in referendum after referendum) it treats the will of the people with utter contempt. Even Clegg admits, with masterful understatement, that the EU “is not a model of democratic efficiency”.
The implicit falsehood in the Lib-Dem position is the assumption, absurd when you spell it out, that we can only achieve trade and cooperation if we sacrifice independence and democracy.
And Clegg knows this. During the time when we both sat in the European parliament representing the East Midlands (1999/2004), I several times debated against him. I vividly recall him remarking to me (he now conveniently insists that he has no recollection of the statement, but I remember it very clearly) “When I first heard your views on Europe, Roger, I thought you were mad. But now that I’ve heard you argue your case, I can see that you have an intellectually defensible position, even though I disagree with it”. So he knows that no one in the Conservative Party wants to “Pull up the drawbridge and rant and rave”. And his deliberate use of this mendacious caricature is downright dishonest.