The dialogue between Farage and Clegg was predictable but the big debate on Britain’s place in Europe showed just how far UKIP’s star has brightened in recent years. Nigel and his party are now officially part of the British political family – writes our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude
The real significance of the Nigel Farage versus Nick Clegg encounter was not what they said to each other – see below – but that the leader of UKIP stood toe to toe with a leader from one of the major political parties, who is also a key member of the governing coalition. Farage now counts as the representative of a party acknowledged to be part of the political family in the United Kingdom. He also had the dialectic advantage of being the new kid on the block, just as Clegg was in the television debates among the party leaders before the 2010 elections in the UK.
What they said could have been published before they said it. Farage is concerned at the prospect of the entire population of the European Union settling in Britain and enjoying its benefits because there is nothing to stop them. So far, it must be said, most Germans, Frenchmen and Italians et al. seem to prefer to stay back home where they grew up. He contends that UK membership of the EU costs a fortune, which ought to be spent on behalf of the hard-working British citizenry.
It is a lot of money but Farage gave the gross without taking account of what the UK gets back from EU spending programmes. He also contends that EU laws and regulations dominate British life to the detriment of democracy. He had one strong scoring point when he recalled that Clegg had been a strong advocate of Britain adopting the euro – which, as is now clear, would not have been in the country’s best interest.
Clegg had no difficulty in puncturing the complaints. He had solid evidence about the positive benefits of intra-EU migration, about the net cost of membership and about the vast predominance of law making that is entirely British. It has all been said before but no amount of saying it discourages UKIP from disregarding the facts and living on in the myths.
There is a lot wrong with the EU. But they are not the things that Farage talks of – because putting them right would strengthen the union. The manifest blessing is that Farage’s opponent was, not by chance, the deputy prime minister – an old Brussels hand who is a Europhile through and through, and not the Eurosceptic Prime Minister David Cameron who would have had to agree with Farage that a lot needs sorting to restore British sovereignty. Can we expect some “I agree with Nigel” moments before the next UK general election just as we witnessed many “I agree with Nick” moments last time around? Who knows – either way there is some great fun to be had dissecting the televised debates ahead.