Why Nick Clegg talked to Blair and Mandelson
We now know what those long conversations Nick Clegg had with Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair (David Miliband too) were about. Some were on the phone some face to face, but the subject is the same: Europe. As the FT reports today, Nick Clegg is deeply concerned about a perfect storm gathering over Europe.
The fundamental worry is how the UK reacts to the eurozone countries intensifying their relationship. He fears the Tory position, of relishing being on the outside of all this and trying to move even further apart with repatriation of powers is immensely destructive. The dialogue with the former PM and the former business secretary and EU Trade Commissioner is about how to stop a slide away from the EU altogether.
Nick Clegg worries about his coalition partners using every approaching crisis – the EU Budget, the home and justice opt outs – to improve their eurosceptic credentials and please their own troops. George Osborne in particular is believed to be keen to veto an EU budget agreement.
Nick Clegg fears that his coalition partners don’t look for possible ways of staying in the room on negotiations – like the banking union – and have lost the art of building alliances with EU partners to help the UK get its way (on areas like the EU budget, for instance, where Mr Clegg actually shares David Cameron‘s desire to freeze or severely cap the total).
Mr Clegg worries that the Tories are potentially taking the UK on an “extraordinary journey” – to borrow a phrase from his speech today – out of the EU. Europe may not feature much if at all in his speech today, but it preoccupies the multilingual ex-Brussels official in private.
As for the discussions with Ed Miliband that Nick Clegg referred to at the weekend, they were dominated by constitutional reform matters, not Europe. The evidence so far is that they didn’t get very far!
Follow Gary Gibbon’s blogs on Twitter @GaryGibbonBlog