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25 October 2011 3:33 PM

Clegg's tough message to Eurosceptics

Nick Clegg has been out and about this morning, vowing to tear up red tape for small businesses. But the issue of Europe has inevitably raised its head after yesterday's huge Tory rebellion, and the Lib-Dem leader has been delivering a pretty tough message to people who are, after all, members of his own Government.

Talking to ESP, he said the Eurosceptics were playing "Russian roulette" with British jobs and warned them to be careful what they wish for. He was also clear on the issue of getting powers back from the Brussels, condemning it as a "smash and grab raid".

Here's a full transcript:

ESP: How did you feel yesterday seeing the Prime Minister having to go through that rigmarole with his backbenchers and then all the Tories marching through the lobbies? Because it's your Government at the end of the day as well, isn't it?

Nick Clegg: Yes absolutely, it's our Government. It's our Government but the Conservative Party has a long standing bee in its bonnet about arcane European institutional questions. I just happen to think it is a monumental distraction from the key task of repairing the damage to our economy and getting people jobs and economic security and I think these ideas knocking about as proposed by Conservative eurosceptics of either pitching the whole country into months or years of uncertainty through some in/out referendum or launching some smash and grab raid across the channel on powers from Brussels - they are neither justified nor in the interests of Britain. Because at the end of the day British jobs, British prosperity, the British economy, British families, British communities are massively dependent on a successful European economy and Britain being successful in that economy. And the way you create a more successful European economy is be leading the debate, not leaving.

ESP: It sounds like there is a sense of frustration in your voice?

NC: Look, it's one of the many reasons I'm not a Conservative. I'm pro-European but not in a starry-eyed way. In fact I'm probably more realistic than anybody about the flaws in the European Union because I have done it myself. I have significantly changed Europe. I for instance, when I was a Euro MP, passed ground-breaking legislation to scrap a whole raft of red tape that was stopping British consumers from benefiting from lower telephone costs, for instance. I have been talking just now about Ed Davey getting a patent law in place, getting all the other countries to agree to reducing red tape. We have just had the Commission come out finally for something I have been campaigning about for years, which is a more sensible, more devolved Common Fisheries Policy. Because I think the way the Common Fisheries Policy was over-bureaucratic...was wrong. So the way you change Europe is not by stamping your foot in Westminster but by getting out there, self-confidently saying this is the way Europe should go, we are going to lead the debate."

ESP: Do you think this has lanced the boil or stored up trouble?

NC: Look, if there is one thing I have learnt over the years it's that people who are obsessed by European treaties - article this, article that - remain obsessed. I think they are playing Russian roulette with people's jobs. Because it is people's jobs and livelihoods and the money in their pocket which is at stake if you push Britain to the exit door - and I'm not going to let that happen."

It's worth noting that his comments haven't gone down well on the Tory backbenches. Mark Pritchard, 1922 committee secretary, said the country can't be "held to ransom by Europhile Lib-Dem MPs".

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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