Connect to share and comment

UK deputy PM to clash with anti-EU rival in public debates


Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Wednesday he and the head of the country's most anti-EU party had set dates for two eagerly awaited face-to-face debates ahead of the forthcoming European Parliament elections.

Clegg, leader of the Europhile Liberal Democrats, will face Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to pull Britain out of the European Union.

They will square up on London-based LBC radio on March 26, and again on BBC television on April 2.

There is no love lost between the pair. Clegg has said he will launch an all-out attack on the "myths" peddled by "isolationists".

Farage said he would use the televised debate as a "platform for the majority of British people, who want our relationship with Europe to be one of trade and co-operation but not one of political union".

Polls show right-wing UKIP has moved ahead of the centrist Lib Dems as Britain's third most-popular political party.

The hour-long televised debate will see them answer questions from a selected audience of pro- and anti-EU voters.

"I wanted the British people to see that there is a very real choice at the upcoming European elections: between the Liberal Democrats as the party of 'in' and UKIP as the party of 'out'," Clegg said.

"The Liberal Democrats are fighting to keep Britain in Europe to protect British jobs while UKIP want to yank us out and threaten our recovery."

British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, wants to renegotiate London's relationship with Brussels and stage an in-or-out referendum by the end of 2017 if he remains prime minister after next year's general election.

"Europe is always a highly charged issue in British politics and this is a fantastic opportunity to test the arguments," said James Harding, director of BBC news and current affairs.

In Britain, the European Parliament elections will be held on May 22.

The Lib Dems are defending 12 of Britain's 73 seats, while UKIP has nine. At the last European elections in 2009, UKIP came second and the Lib Dems fourth.

UKIP does not however have a single seat in the British parliament.