Nick Clegg: Government Determined To Ensure Britain Remains At Heart Of Single Market
The Government is "absolutely determined" to ensure that Britain remains at the heart of the European single market, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
Despite the deep differences on Europe between the coalition parties exposed by David Cameron's decision to deploy the UK veto to block a new EU treaty last week, Mr Clegg insisted he spoke for the whole Government in asserting the need for Britain to "re-engage" with Europe.
The Deputy Prime Minister was addressing members of pro-single market group Business For New Europe (BNE), whose director Philip Souta said Mr Cameron was mistaken to wield the veto.
The breakfast meeting in a London hotel came just hours before Mr Clegg was expected to appear alongside Mr Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons for the first time since declining to take his place on the Government front benches on Monday to hear him report back from the EU summit.
Mr Clegg and his Liberal Democrat MPs abstained en masse on Tuesday night rather than back a motion congratulating Mr Cameron for protecting British interests in Brussels.
He told the business leaders: "As the dust settles on the summit that took place last week, I speak here on behalf of the whole coalition Government, notwithstanding the differences of view between the parties within the Government.
"The whole Government is absolutely determined to re-engage with our European partners, to get back on the front foot and to make sure that our vital national economic self-interest in being at the heart of the single market is properly followed through the weeks and months ahead."
He told the BNE Advisory Council members, including Tory peer and former European Commissioner Lord Brittan, Centrica chairman Sir Roger Carr and BAA chief executive Colin Matthews: "You know as well as I do that your businesses and millions of people's jobs in this country depend on our place at the heart of the single market."
Mr Clegg called for "calm" after the confrontational rhetoric seen on Tuesday in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where some MEPs issued demands for Britain to lose its rebate in retaliation for its lack of "solidarity".
"We saw some pretty intemperate remarks aimed at Britain yesterday in the European Parliament," said Mr Clegg. "I hope we can move beyond that and work together to ensure that our calm, reasoned and engaged voice is heard positively within the EU institutions in the period to come."