Signs of a Rift in U.K. Coalition ; Deputy Premier Echoes U.S. Warning on British Drift Away from E.U

By Castle, Stephen | International Herald Tribune, January 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Signs of a Rift in U.K. Coalition ; Deputy Premier Echoes U.S. Warning on British Drift Away from E.U


Castle, Stephen, International Herald Tribune


Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that risking British membership in the union was perilous.

A blunt warning from the United States to Prime Minister David Cameron over his plans to loosen ties with the European Union was echoed by Mr. Cameron's coalition partner Thursday, opening new fissures here over Britain's ambivalent attitude toward the 27- nation bloc.

Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that risking British membership in the union was perilous, and he mocked a long-awaited speech on E.U. policy that Mr. Cameron is expected to make in the Netherlands before the end of the month.

Mr. Clegg, who is a Dutch speaker and whose party supports the European Union, joked that he would be on hand to translate Mr. Cameron's speech "from double-Dutch to just Dutch."

Mr. Cameron, whose Conservative lawmakers are increasingly critical of the European Union, has said he wants to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the bloc and seek consent from voters for the outcome of those talks.

Many observers expect him to make an explicit promise of a referendum in his upcoming speech -- in part because Mr. Cameron's party risks losing support to the U.K. Independence Party, which wants Britain to leave the union.

The political temperature rose following an unusual, on-the- record intervention on Wednesday, in which a senior U.S. official argued that Britain was a more useful ally if it remained fully engaged in the European Union. Speaking in London, Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, added that referendums held by other nations on E.U. agreements "have sometimes turned countries inward."

Britons pride themselves on their "special relationship" with Washington and the possibility that it would be weakened by a movement away from the European Union is problematic for Mr. Cameron.

Addressing parliamentary journalists in London, Mr. Clegg -- who has been increasingly willing to take a different stand from Mr. Cameron on a range of issues -- outlined a vision on Europe starkly at odds with that of the prime minister while asserting that such divisions need not affect the overall coherence of the coalition. …

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