DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg may have fallen out over Europe, but at least the Prime Minister had the perfect riposte to jibes by Labour leader Ed Miliband: “It’s not that bad, it’s not like we’re brothers or anything.”
A reference to Labour’s leadership contest that so divided the Miliband family, it illustrated the power of humour to diffuse a difficult situation. Indeed, this one jibe immediately focused attention, again, on the Opposition and whether members picked the right brother to succeed Gordon Brown rather than the coalition’s continued viability.
Yet, with Mr Miliband unable to explain whether he would have signed the EU treaty in question, it was important that the PM and his deputy showed that they intend to fulfil the pact which they made in May 2010. That every Lib Dem Minister and MP recognises this, despite abstaining in a Parliamentary debate on Europe, shows the kind of political maturity required to ensure that the Government survives these difficulties. And, while speculation mounts that the deal brokered to save the Eurozone will not stick, further justifying Mr Cameron’s use of his veto, Mr Clegg was right yesterday when he said that the UK must remain at the heart of the European single market.
The need for increased exports demands this. Yet, rather than becoming closer to Brussels, Mr Clegg should recognise that an arms-length relationship could yield greater dividends if Britain remains a critical and objective friend of the EU.
That means making the Single Market work for Britain – while ensuring that inflexible employment laws do not compromise small businesses. As such, this could be a timely opportunity for Mr Clegg to review his party’s pro-EU stance and to consider whether this needs to be reappraised to reflect the changing economic situation.