Nick Clegg briefs EU Negotiator on “fragile, febrile” UK politics

Nick Clegg briefs EU Negotiator on “fragile, febrile” UK politics


Luke Foddy

Former Deputy Prime Minister briefed Michel Barnier on the state of UK politics, he tells Asia House. 

Former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has revealed that he advised EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the “fragile” state of British politics during a cross-party visit to Brussels on Monday with Lord Adonis and Ken Clarke.

In an interview with Asia House – the first he has given since his meeting with the Chief Negotiator on Monday – Mr Clegg said he impressed upon Mr Barnier the unpredictability of the UK political situation.

“He [Barnier] was interested obviously to get my understanding and that of Ken Clarke and Andrew Adonis of our politics on Brexit here in Britain because in his point of view he can only negotiate successfully if he… seeks to understand what things look like from the other side of the negotiating table,” Mr Clegg said.

“It’s extremely difficult to explain to folk on the other side of the Channel what on earth is going on in British politics.”

‘Threadbare majority’

According to Mr Clegg, British politics is “fragile”, with the slender nature of the Conservative majority creating profound uncertainty.

“One of the things I impressed upon Barnier… is that British politics is extraordinarily fragile, and febrile, and brittle at the moment and anything can happen… another unpredictable sex scandal in Westminster, and a rash of by-elections, and bang goes [the Conservative’s] threadbare majority,” he said.

“It’s so febrile now.”

Mr Clegg suggested the weakness of the British government poses difficulties for the EU negotiators.

“It’s always easier to negotiate with a people who are strong and predictable, and now they’re having to negotiate with a government that is weak and unpredictable.”

“We have a hapless Prime Minister who’s in Number 10, but not really with any meaningful authority. You’ve got the rise of Jeremy Corbyn who’s galvanised this pro-European youthful vote behind him even though he himself is a dyed-in-the-wool Eurosceptic. [And] it’s clearly doing increasing damage to the British economy before Brexit has even happened, and is actually damaging, tragically and unforgivably in my view, the very people – those from lowest income groups – that it was claimed by Boris Johnson and by Farage and others, would be helped by Brexit.”

Bad deal likely 

Mr Clegg also shared his views on the most likely outcome of Brexit negotiations, saying he believes a deal will be struck, but a poor one for British interests.

Many in Westminster are “gravitating” towards an outcome that would be similar to the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA), Mr Clegg said. Such an arrangement would be “so far inferior to what we’ve got,” and any model adopted by the UK would represent “the greatest act of protectionism ever entered into by any British government in the modern era.”

Can it be stopped? 

“A bad deal is the most likely outcome,” Mr Clegg predicted.

Mr Clegg, who has recently published a book – How to Stop Brexit (And make Britain Great again) – said it is still possible to stop Brexit happening. That requires, he said, that “MPs do their job and act in the national interest, not just their party interests.”

“Their job is to act in their constituents’ interests, not just what the tabloid newspapers tell them to do.”

Watch the full interview here