Nick Clegg issues challenge to Ukip: 'It's time for a proper, public debate on Europe'

The Deputy Prime Minister has vowed to go head-to-head with Nigel Farage ahead of the European Parliamentary elections

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has been challenged by Nick Clegg to a live debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The Liberal Democrat leader called for the televised clash to take place ahead of the European Parliamentary elections in May. Several broadcasters are understood to have already expressed their interest in hosting the confrontation.

Mr Farage is expected to give his answer on Friday but Ukip said it wanted any debate over Britain’s place in the EU to include David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

Mr Clegg’s move comes a week after he disclosed a high-risk strategy to go head-to-head with the anti-EU party in May’s elections.

Writing in The Independent, the Deputy Prime Minister said he planned to contrast the Lib Dems’ avowedly pro-European stance as “the party of ‘in’” with Ukip’s commitment to quit the EU.

He argued his party had a “unique selling point” on Europe, claiming many Conservatives want to pull out and that Labour is reluctant to attack Ukip.

In his LBC 97.3 radio phone-in show, Mr Clegg said: “I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the European Union. That’s the choice facing the British people.

“He is the leader of the party of out, I am the leader of the party of in. It’s time for a proper public debate so that the public can listen to the arguments and decide for themselves.”

A Ukip spokesman said Mr Farage welcomed the “kind invitation and would give his response in his own phone-in programme today (fri).

“Perhaps Nick Clegg could also let us know whether he has invited David Cameron and Ed Miliband too in order that the British people can see all their main political leaders argue their positions,” he added.

Mr Clegg’s move came after Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, warned the party faces "fight of our lives" not to lose all of its 12 Euro-MPs in May’s elections.