Nick Clegg has raised doubts that he would form a second coalition with the Conservatives if an EU referendum was part of the agreement, saying: “I would never, of course, accept being part of a government that advocated withdrawal from the European Union”.
His words have caused consternation with eurosceptic Conservative MPs who want David Cameron to stick to his pledge of renegotiation followed by a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the bloc, the Guardian reports.
Lib Dem staff said the words were“a statement of fact and of the obvious since he is pro-European Union”.
Mr Clegg has already made clear that should the Lib Dems be part of a coalition then they wouldn’t stay away from any negotiations.
“If any British government of whatever composition were involved in the formulation of a new treaty that has to be put to a referendum then, of course, the whole government is involved in that, “he said.
“You cannot have a split-screen arrangement where something of such huge constitutional importance is only dealt with by one half of the government and the rest of the government continues in blissful ignorance.”
While Cameron has been under pressure from his eurosceptics, Clegg has been facing similar calls from his staunchly pro-EU MPs who want his refusal to be part of a government that brings about a referendum to be one of his red lines. Asked why he had not made the EU vote one of the deal breakers in any coalition negotiations, he said: “We choose the red lines that we think are most important for our future.”
The former MEP said that voters were more concerned about Lib Dem policies on other areas of their manifesto than a referendum – despite the EU and its consequences being high on the list of the majority of voters.
A UKIP spokesman said the pair were “more interested in power over principle and always have been.”
Referring to Mr Cameron’s gaffe, they said “The country can trust him – to do the best for his career as he said so himself.”
His desire for a coalition government including the Lib Dems was evident at a rally in Cardiff when he said that should the Conservatives or Labour decide to go it alone with a minority government there will be a second election by the end of the year.
“The last thing Britain needs is a second election before Christmas. But that is exactly what will happen if Ed Miliband and David Cameron put their own political interest ahead of the national interest. The only party that will ensure stability is the Liberal Democrats,” he told supporters.
But Cameron is keeping his options open and ruling nothing out ahead of the results on Friday, saying Labour would have “massive credibility problems” if he tried to form a coalition without being the largest party.
Speaking to LBC radio, the Conservative leader said Mr Miliband would face “a massive credibility problem with this idea that you can have a Labour government, backed by the SNP, only fighting for part of the country.”
He added that “the concerns of the voters that I’m hearing about are very, very strong.”
But a potential ally of Mr Cameron’s was critical of his position on Scotland, saying the Tories should not look to be “punishing” voters who back the SNP.
Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said building up the threat of the nationalists as a way of damaging Labour in Scotland was a concern for them as an Ulster party.
Speaking in Belfast, Mr Robinson said: “The parties of the union shouldn’t be punishing Scotland because they may choose to vote SNP. Those pro-union parties in Scotland should be considering why their policies and vision are not garnering support. During any post-election negotiations, we will want to see this addressed.”