Leading article: Unstatesmanlike behaviour

Share
Related Topics

Nick Clegg will have some explaining to do today when he briefs the Parliamentary lobby on Liberal Democrat policy towards a referendum on Europe and, more specifically, on last week's Commons walkout.

To recall, Mr Clegg staged the latter in protest against the Speaker's refusal to schedule a vote on a referendum, not on the Lisbon Treaty, as the Tories are demanding, but on Britain's membership of the European Union.

Mr Clegg will doubtless defend himself against the charge that his walkout came close to resembling a stunt of the type once associated with the rump of irreconcilables on the hard left of the Labour Party.

He may well say that the Liberal Democrats, as a staunchly pro-European party, are right to call for the nation to vote on the EU itself in order to end uncertainty once and for all over Britain's commitment to Europe. At the same time, the Liberal Democrats will make it clear they intend to flush out the anti-Europeans in the Tory party who they believe are cynically concealing their contempt for the whole European project under the guise of opposing the Lisbon Treaty.

Fair enough. The problem is that there is an element of recklessness at the heart of the strategy. It may be true that the Tories are papering over rifts in their own ranks on Europe by uniting behind the demand for a referendum on Lisbon. But there are serious questions to be asked over whether it would be wise to plunge the country into a national debate on the issue of EU membership as the Liberal Democrats demand.

Far from ending the European debate, as Mr Clegg and his supporters contend, the likelihood is that a referendum on the EU would do incalculable damage to Britain's standing in Europe, again reviving Britain's reputation as a semi-detached, unreliable player.

As for the effect of such a referendum at home, it would surely turn into a Pandora's Box, offering a megaphone to a host of undesirable right-wing extremists who would have a field day airing their racist and anti-immigrant views as part of a so-called debate on the EU. The Liberal Democrats have a dilemma on Europe. Unwilling to side with the Tories in calling for a referendum on Lisbon, and equally unwilling to side with Labour in flatly opposing that demand, they strive to find a third way and think they have found it in a referendum of their own devising. They should beware of getting what they wish for.

They should also reconsider such tactics as walkout. They do indeed whip up a little much-needed publicity but hardly appear statesmanlike or appropriate for a party that claims it is ready to form the next government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little