Nick Clegg believes the UK could become a “hapless pawn” in attempts to destroy Europe if British politicians ape Michael Gove and “sycophantically rush” to Trump Towers.
Speaking exclusively to the Huff Post UK, the former Deputy Prime Minister warned that both Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin want to see the break up of the EU – and could use the UK to make it happen.
Clegg, who served as a Lib Dem MEP for five years before winning a seat in Westminster, believes that for the first time in more than half a century the leaders in both Washington and Moscow “wish Europe ill”.
Speaking to the Huff Post UK from his Westminster office, Clegg said: “It’s been quite obvious for many years that Putin wants to undermine the cohesion of Europe.
“Trump in his recent statements, not least to Michael Gove, kind of assumes the European Union is going to unravel – almost welcomes it.
“The European Community was initially created precisely – or in part – because the Americans wanted to create a European bulwark – a political and economic bulwark – against Soviet Communism.
“So now to have the American president almost colluding with the Russian power in the Kremlin and almost anticipate, perhaps encourage, the unraveling of the European Union is an astonishing reversal, a complete reversal, of the last half century’s worth of politics and strategic politics in Europe.
“I would hate to see Britain just become a slightly sort of hapless pawn in this wider game in which Putin and Trump almost connive to see the end of the European Union.
“A collapsing and unraveling European Union is not only very bad for the European Union itself it’s absolutely disastrous for us.
“The idea that we can, with just a short little stretch of water between us and the continent, somehow kind of be insulated from what would ensue if the European Union were to crumble all together it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I think it’s really important we don’t basically follow the lead of Michael Gove which is sycophantically rush to Trump’s side when actually the affects of much of what he wants seem to me to pose real risks to us as a country.”
In the five years Clegg and Gove were Cabinet colleagues in the coalition government, the pair’s relationship turned from friendly to frosty.
In his memoirs last year, Clegg admitted the two were not even on speaking terms by the time the 2015 General Election came about, and claimed Gove even once hid in a toilet to avoid Lib Dem colleague David Laws.
When asked what he made of the Gove/Trump interview, Clegg responded with laughter before saying: “Gove and Trump, that is an absolute perfect combination.
“There’s a marriage made in…I don’t quite know where, perhaps not heaven, but they both have this fantastic talent, Michael does have a fantastic talent, for a winning phrase and for arresting prose, but both of them have in my experience, certainly Michael, has a slightly erratic grip on the truth sometimes.”
Clegg expressed concerns that many in the UK had not quite realised the true implications of Trump’s election win and the impact it would have on international politics.
He said: “Trump is part of this extraordinary eruption of identity politics, of chauvinism, of populism across the developed world. He just so happens also to be the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet and it’s a lot more important what he does than even populists like Le Pen or Geert Wilders or Viktor Orban might do elsewhere.
“My great worry right now, for us in Britain is that I wonder whether people have fully absorbed quite what is going on because we now have an American President and Russian President both of whom – perhaps from completely different directions – basically wish Europe ill.”