Poll puts Farage on top in debate

NICK Clegg and Nigel Farage went head-to-head on TV last night as they tried to convince voters of the merits of their sharply-contrasting visions of Britain’s future role in the European Union.

The pro-EU Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party clashed on topics including immigration, employment and the economy during an hour-long debate.

The event, hosted by LBC radio and televised live by news channels, took place less than two months before the May 22 elections to the European Parliament.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And last night a snap poll indicated that it was Mr Farage who had come out of the verbal tussle on top. Some 57 per cent of those surveyed by YouGov thought he had performed best, compared to just 36 per cent for the Liberal Democrat leader.

After winning the toss of a pound coin, Mr Farage invited his opponent to “open the batting”, and Sheffield Hallam MP Mr Clegg made a brief opening address, staring straight into the TV camera. “Make no mistake – if we cut ourselves off from Europe, from the countries that we trade with more than anyone else, then our hard-won economic recovery will simply be thrown away,” he said.

But Mr Farage hit back: “This debate is between a tired status quo defending a crumbling EU that frankly isn’t working any more, and a fresh approach that says let’s be friendly with Europe, let’s trade with Europe, but let’s not be governed by their institutions.”

The first question faced by the party leaders was a demand for politicians to “trust the British public” by giving them a referendum on EU membership now.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Farage told the audience in London: “I would like this referendum to take place before the next general election.”

The Lib Dems have promised an in/out referendum the next time significant powers are transferred to Brussels.

Mr Clegg said: “Nigel says let’s have a referendum next Tuesday, next Wednesday, next Thursday – every time there’s a decision taken somewhere else in the European Union. It’s really important to remember this is a decision which would have a huge effect, which would have massive consequences for our country for generations to come, for decades to come.”

As the debate turned to immigration, Mr Clegg claimed the NHS would “collapse” without foreign workers. Mr Farage, however, said free movement in the EU “might have been OK when we were in with countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany” but the accession of eastern European nations had changed the situation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Clegg then raised the prospect of multi-national companies pulling jobs and vital investment out of the UK if it quit the EU.

And, dismissing Mr Farage’s suggestion that the UK would be better negotiating its own trade deals with countries around the world, he said: “It’s not the 1950s, we can’t turn the clock back. We have got new powers on the world stage – Brazil, China, India – and we get more clout by being part of the world’s biggest economy.”

But Mr Farage said: “I remember, Nick, you and all your gang – all the big corporates – all telling us 12 years ago that if we didn’t join the euro, all inward investment would cease, the City of London would disappear. All I can say is thank God we didn’t listen to you, otherwise we would have been in one hell of a mess.”

A second debate will be broadcast on BBC2 on April 2 and will also be broadcast by Sky News.