Help
BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show

MORE PROGRAMMES

Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Sunday, 11 December 2011

Transcript of Nick Clegg Interview

PLEASE NOTE "THE ANDREW MARR SHOW" MUST BE CREDITED IF ANY PART OF THIS TRANSCRIPT IS USED

On 11th December 2011 Andrew Marr interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

ANDREW MARR:

The natural world in all its variety and of course its cruelty and harshness too - which takes us back to the equally rich and varied world of politics, and I'm joined by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Good morning.

NICK CLEGG:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Can you explain why, if at all, the city is really safer today than it would have been a week ago?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week's summit precisely because I think there is now a real danger that over time the United Kingdom will be isolated and marginalised within the European Union. I don't think that's good for jobs, in the City or elsewhere; I don't think it's good for growth; I don't think it's good for families up and down the country. And that's why I as a Liberal Democrat in this coalition government will now do everything I can to make sure that this setback does not become a permanent divide; that we get back into the saddle and that we work and exercise leadership on things like the single market, the environment, foreign policy, defence policy - all the things that we need to do at a European level - so that Britain leads and that we don't up retreating to the margins.

ANDREW MARR:

I want to come back to a lot of that …

NICK CLEGG:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

… but can I just be clear: those people who say actually the city may be in a worse place as a result of what's happened because the other 26 can get together and rules can be agreed on qualified majority voting which will affect the city and we won't be at the table, those people are right?

NICK CLEGG:

I think they might be right and that's why we need to work very hard. That's why I, for instance, will be now actively working with not just business groups and financial services, but look manufacturers in my own constituency in Sheffield who export to Europe. They are anxious about what all of this means for their ability to continue to make things in Sheffield and export them into what remains the world's largest borderless single market. And what I think we need to do, what I will be doing, what the government will be doing is working with business, who are anxious I think about this and many of the business groups have said so already, and they want to see Britain standing tall in Europe, defending their interests and making sure the integrity of the single market is properly preserved. We will now need to work especially hard to make sure that happens and that's what I think we need to do next as a government.

ANDREW MARR:

So if the city isn't better protected, what was it all about? What was the veto for?

NICK CLEGG:

The safeguards which the government as a whole sought were pretty reasonable safeguards to ensure that the level playing field upon which this huge single market of over 550 million consumers were based, for one reason or another there wasn't even any negotiation about the menu of negotiating asks that we'd made. There was no …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Do you think …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Can I just … There was no give and take at all. The whole thing became polarised and I think that potentially, potentially - it won't happen tomorrow, it won't happen the day afterwards - but potentially over time is damaging to Britain as a whole. And all my political life I have believed that Britain is stronger, better, greater when we lead and when we stand tall in Europe because by the way …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you think …

NICK CLEGG:

… if we stand tall in Europe, we're taken seriously in Washington.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

If we don't stand tall in Europe, I don't think Washington will be particularly interested in what happens in Britain.

ANDREW MARR:

So you think that the Prime Minister was trapped …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) I think the Prime Minister …

ANDREW MARR:

… was outmanoeuvred?

NICK CLEGG:

No, let's be clear. I think the Prime Minister was in a difficult position because he faced intransigence from France and Germany. I had been warning for weeks privately and publicly that the danger at the summit was one of division; that it was clear that the French government, for instance, would not shed a tear if Britain was pushed to the margins.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So why did the government let itself get into this position?

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Can I, can I just finish? On the other hand … So he had intransigence there on the one hand, and he was facing clearly intransigence in large parts of the Conservative Party on Europe. He couldn't come back to London empty-handed. I'll tell you why not: because self-evidently if he'd done so, he wouldn't have been able to get whatever had been agreed through the House of Commons, so all we would have had would have been a delayed crisis. But what I …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you don't blame David Cameron for this, but you do blame the Conservative Party?

NICK CLEGG:

I think that the combin… Look when things break down in any negotiations, what happens is that you get a dialogue of people who just aren't … you know a dialogue of people talking past each other. You get polarisation. And, on the one hand, we had countries - and particularly France and Germany - who just really weren't interested in trying to help out; and, on the other hand, of course we've had this steady drumbeat not only in the recent weeks and months, but for years from the Conservative Party (or parts of it) of outright antagonism to all things European.

ANDREW MARR:

Well they think was a triumph.

NICK CLEGG:

Well of course they think it's a triumph, but in my view they are spectacularly misguided. Do you know there's nothing … I hear this talk about the "bull dog spirit". There's nothing bull dog about Britain hovering somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, not standing tall in Europe, not being taken seriously in Washington. I've always believed in a self-confident, open, engaged Britain. That's what I believe and it's what my party believes in. Now I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that the potential damage that could be done to us as a country is going to happen. It now depends very much on how we play our cards. And that's why far from retreating further to the margins, which is what some Eurosceptics want and are calling for, we should be re-engaging more fully and we're going to have to redouble our efforts in doing so.

ANDREW MARR:

It's clear that you think the veto didn't gain us anything and may have put us in a more dangerous position. Can I ask you during those nine hours of negotiation late into the night, at any point did the Prime Minister call you and speak to you about it directly?

NICK CLEGG:

I spoke to the Prime Minister after the summit was concluded, of course.

ANDREW MARR:

So not during the negotiations themselves?

NICK CLEGG:

Of course not. He was locked in a nocturnal negotiation. I was locked in my flat in Sheffield.

ANDREW MARR:

So the first thing you heard about it was early in the morning in Sheffield?

NICK CLEGG:

I was called at 4 o'clock in the morning as the thing broke up in Brussels, and I was told about the outcome shortly before the Prime Minister gave a press conference. I told the Prime Minister then …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And what was your …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) … again if I just finish?

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … what was your immediate reaction when you heard?

NICK CLEGG:

My immediate reaction was I said this was bad for Britain and you know I made it clear …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) To the Prime Minister?

NICK CLEGG:

… to the Prime Minister of course that it was untenable for me to welcome it. And now subsequently I said that I regret … my first public comment was that I regret the outcome; that I think Eurosceptics should be careful for what they wish for. You know I have for a very, very long time believed that the danger in all of this is firstly that the Eurozone does not get its act together - and the jury is still out whether they have sufficiently …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Absolutely.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) … and frankly in many ways the British debate might just be a sideshow compared to the much bigger economic story of what's happening in the Eurozone. But that was the first thing. And the second thing was that - and I said this publicly and privately over a long period of time - we needed to do everything we could to avoid division. And I certainly could not have foreseen - I don't think anyone could - that we ended up not in a situation of you know 17 versus 10 or a split down the middle, but 1 versus 26. Which clearly, whatever your views on Europe -

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

… and I know there are lots of people who are anxious about the European Union and don't like it - but no-one can believe that it is good for Britain in the long-run to be in a position of one.

ANDREW MARR:

A lot of Conservatives would like to see a referendum pretty quickly on our future inside Europe. Would you allow that to happen?

NICK CLEGG:

There is no case for a referendum when there is no transfer of sovereignty of power from the United Kingdom …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So no referendum?

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well can I be very clear. There should be a referendum if we were going to … But this is the irony, of course. We were never being asked as a country to transfer any sovereignty whatsoever from the United Kingdom to the European Union. What we were being asked to do was to consent to a new set of arrangements which would allow the Eurozone to do something fiscally.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Alright.

NICK CLEGG:

What David Cameron clearly needed was to bring something back to show that safeguards were secured, and that did not happen.

ANDREW MARR:

I'd like to ask you about this new set of arrangements because there's a lot of people who have no clue about how it's going to work. We appear to have 26 countries now meeting together to discuss huge economic issues, but they're not the EU. Are they going to use the same buildings? Are they going to use the same officials, the same phone lines? What's going to happen?

NICK CLEGG:

Well the answer is no-one knows. This is uncharted territory. My own view is that we need to make sure as more summits occur and more discussions occur - there will be other opportunities in the months ahead for Britain to seek to exercise some influence - that we don't make this, as I said …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Will there really? Because a lot of people would say …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well of course there …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … there's going to be 26 getting together. They are going to talk about the big issues. There will be other meetings where the 27th member is there.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well it clearly would be ludicrous for the 26, which is pretty well the whole of the European Union with the exception of only one member state, to completely reinvent or recreate a whole panoply of new institutions.

ANDREW MARR:

So we'll use the old ones?

NICK CLEGG:

Well they've said, they've said in their summit conclusions, for instance, that they want the European Court of Justice to play a role in monitoring these new, very tough, Germanic, fiscal standards. So they've already said that there's going to be some crossover between institutions that we all share. And in that discussion I think it is very, very important that what we do as a country is think smart and long-term about what our long-term interests are, and they are - and they must remain - the preservation, the integrity of the single market, and, crucially, the power and authority of the referee, of the European Commission, in making sure that the rules are enforced in an even way across the whole European continent.

ANDREW MARR:

Given that, how does Britain climb back into the boat if that's what you think should happen? You know there are going to be meetings next month and the month after that and the month after that to which Britain will not be invited, and they will feel in many ways like meetings of the EU.

NICK CLEGG:

They will feel like … As I said, there's 26 rather than 27. But, as I'll also explain, clearly a decision has been already made to use some of the European Union institutions. That involves us, so of course we've got if you like a foot in the door there. And …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But only a foot in the door.

NICK CLEGG:

Well of course it's only a foot in the door. That is why I do not welcome, that's why I said immediately afterwards I regret the outcome of the summit. It now depends on what we do. It now depends all on what we do. And what I'm going to do, and what I think this government should do - what I'm going to do as a Liberal Democrat in this coalition government is fight, fight, fight again for British long-term interests to make sure that business, jobs and growth are enhanced and not undermined by what has happened.

ANDREW MARR:

Can I put it to you that as one of the most fervent pro-European politicians in the country, you now find yourself in the middle of a government which has taken an irrevocable step which is putting Britain in effect outside the EU and, furthermore, serving under a Prime Minister who because he's doing this is extremely popular in his party and indeed on this matter in the country too?

NICK CLEGG:

I totally accept that if you go out on the street and say, "Do you think we should stand isolated and stick two fingers up to Brussels?" people say "Absolutely, absolutely." I've always believed as long as I've been in politics - and I'll believe it tomorrow, I'll believe it as long as I'm in politics - that you shouldn't always just do what is immediately popular. You've got to do what you think is right for the long-term benefit of the country. And I've always believed that the right thing for the country is for us to lead …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But in stand tall terms, what can you do …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well there is a great …

ANDREW MARR:

… because you know David Cameron is politically very strong on this now?

NICK CLEGG:

Well what I think we can do, must do and will do is make sure that this setback does not become a permanent breach which damages jobs and growth in this country.

ANDREW MARR:

How?

NICK CLEGG:

How? As I said, just look at the summits that are now going to have to happen. There is going to have to be a discussion for instance about the use of European institutions. We must make sure that the use of those institutions is done in a way that safeguards and doesn't further damage the integrity of the single market upon which, let's remind people, 3 million jobs are directly dependent in this country. I care …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Yes. Of course the politics of all of this could change dramatically if the Eurozone breaks up in a disorderly fashion …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Of course, of course.

ANDREW MARR:

… and we could still be looking at that, couldn't we?

NICK CLEGG:

All of this could be a complete - dare I say it on this show - Sunday morning sideshow if the Eurozone goes belly up, which I fervently hope it will not because that will do immense damage to the British economy. But we don't know yet whether the difficulties in the Eurozone have been properly dealt with by this summit. There are now several more months of institutional cogitations and debates and so on and so forth where of course, not withstanding the change that occurred in the summit last week, we can still make our voice heard. And I will never resile from my lifelong belief that Britain is at its strongest and at its best when we seek to lead debates rather than retreat to the margins.

ANDREW MARR:

And do you think that this summit would have been more successful had the Liberal Democrat ministers been more engaged in the preparation and possibly been there as well?

NICK CLEGG:

Look, if I'd been at the summit, if I was … I 'm not the Prime Minister, I didn't win the General Election. Of course things would have been different because I'm not under the same constraints.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Can I just finish?

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You wouldn't have let yourself be in the position where you had to use the veto?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I'm not under the same constraints from my parliamentary party that clearly David Cameron is. Clearly we come at this from different directions. I …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Is this going … Can I just ask, is this going to break up the coalition under any circumstances?

NICK CLEGG:

No. Look if … It would be even more damaging for us as a country if the coalition government were now to fall apart. That would create economic disaster for the country at a time of great economic uncertainty.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It does sound as if you're upset, you're angry, you're worried about the future, but you know that you can't do anything about it.

NICK CLEGG:

Look, there are many, many disagreements in a coalition government of two parties who clearly do not agree. If we did agree on everything, we wouldn't be two separate … But can I just finish this?

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I'm sorry …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) On this particular instance because it is so significant …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … okay.

NICK CLEGG:

… of course these things spill over into the public. We need a public debate about what the long-term interests are and needs of the country.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, it is possible that Britain is on the way to leaving the EU.

NICK CLEGG:

Well I will fight that tooth and nail because I think a Britain which leaves the EU will be considered to be irrelevant by Washington and will be considered a pygmy in the world when I want us to stand tall and lead in the world.

ANDREW MARR:

Nick Clegg, thank you very much indeed for joining us today.

INTERVIEW ENDS




FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit