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Nick Clegg’s comments on the EU at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference

On 30/09/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

Visiting party conferences is important for establishing relationships with our political parties and encouraging their support for the British brewing and pub industry. First up this year were the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth; a much smaller affair than in previous years, but an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make a few more!

I felt privileged to go the Demos fringe and hear former Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, take part in a fascinating interview with Phil Collins (not of course the lead singer for Genesis, but the political journalist who writes for the Times!). They began with a discussion of what happened at the General Election, with Nick Clegg talking about the historical differences between parties (‘a bit more market or a bit more state’) and how the electorate now considers identity to be a more important factor when determining how they will vote at the ballot box.

The panel went on to discuss the EU. The Liberal Democrats are very keen to support remaining in the EU, but believe that the vote is entirely unpredictable, recognising that it could be a re-run of the Scottish Referendum where Scottish nationalism lost out in the end to a stronger economic argument. There is a need, said Nick Clegg, for the 'poetic case' which stirs the blood.

He talked about Franco-German reconciliation as the modern answer to globalisation, but how the historic purpose of the EU, with the end of the Cold War, has been lost. When he worked in Brussels it took 15 years to achieve a directive on chocolate, but free trade with no tariffs means that everyone can export chocolate without any cost. The economics work both ways for the UK; it is not only about goods, services and people coming into the UK, it is about our ability to work and export throughout Europe. He gave the example of Norway, which pays three quarters of the contribution per head of other EU members, but has absolutely no say in how EU Directives are set and simply have to implement them in national law.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs” seemed to be his mantra for staying in the EU. It was then interesting that, in questions, a woman probably in her early 30s said that, for her generation, they do not remember the Cold War, they can hardly remember the breakup of Yugoslavia and have really only known peace. The whole reason for establishing the EU is slightly lost on them, but on the other hand they all know the freedom to travel and work across the EU and are not keen to lose that right.

A very interesting debate which will probably dominate politics until the referendum. There is no role for the BBPA to comment on whether our members do or do not want to stay in the EU, but it is certainly interesting to listen to the arguments. I look forward to hearing the debate at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton next week!


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