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With Merkel in Town, It's Time for Tory Sceptics to Put Up or Shut Up

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Angela Merkel is visiting the UK on Thursday, where she will address both Houses of Parliament and take tea with the Queen. David Cameron is truly rolling out the red carpet for the German leader, who he sees as the crucial player in his strategy to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU before holding a referendum. The media will be in thrall to the chancellor, trying to extract even the tiniest hint of whether Merkel supports Cameron's strategy or not.

The flaws in David Cameron's strategy are numerous and it could lead to Britain moving towards exit of the EU - something that Liberal Democrats are determined to stop. But the greatest problem in the Prime Minister's strategy is that a huge chunk of his own party do not support him and are actively seeking to undermine his proposed renegotiation of our EU membership. We saw the latest attempt at the weekend, when John Redwood demanded that Cameron threaten Merkel with a British exit.

This follows hot on the heels of a letter spearheaded by Bernard Jenkin, who organised dozens of Conservative MPs in a call for Westminster to have a veto over new European laws. Now this sounds very appealing at face value and that is the precise impression that the Conservative rebels wanted to put out - reasonable sounding demands which, when inevitably rejected, can be portrayed as the EU being unreasonable and inflexible. They want the public to believe that the EU cannot be re-formed and slowly come to the conclusion that Britain's only choice is to leave.

A Westminster veto would cause the entire EU project to unravel with every other EU country wanting the same power. It simply is not possible to have a functioning EU if all 28 EU countries can veto each and every proposal. This would mean the French could veto cutting the size of the CAP, the Spanish could veto more sustainable fishing policies and Germany could veto reform on the EU's energy markets. It simply would not work, it would undermine British interests and Tory rebels know this.

This has all created a massive distraction from Britain's genuine interest in reforming Europe to make it more competitive, accountable and efficient. We must harness the EU to create jobs and attract investment into the UK and to streamline regulations for our smallest companies. Lib Dems in government have achieved this by staying at the table and working with Ministers and MEPs from across Europe to achieve our policy goals. Vince Cable's business department has worked with their continental counterparts to cut red tape for Europe's smallest businesses. Through working closely with allies, Britain's smallest firms are now exempt from accounting regulations that are saving businesses up to £390million each year. The department for energy and climate have formed an alliance with France, Germany and other EU countries to set an ambitious EU climate change target to cut emissions by 2030.

But this doesn't interest Tory rebels precisely because they don't want reform to work. They want to pretend that the EU is un-reformable because their true agenda is to leave the EU. I fundamentally disagree with leaving the EU because over three million British jobs are supported by our EU membership. Our place in Europe attracts investment from around the world through companies like Tata Steel, Hitachi, Siemens and Citibank. I disagree with virtually everything Nigel Farage says, but at least we know where Ukip stands and that's why Nick Clegg has challenged him to a live, public debate on our membership of the EU. I want everyone to know that the Lib Dems are the party of in and Ukip the party of out.

It's time for an open, honest in vs out debate on Britain's future. That means the diversionary games, make-belief policies and misleading arguments of Conservative MPs should end. Tory rebels should be honest with the electorate. The Lib Dems are making the argument to stay. Let's hear some honesty too from the prime minister, he goes to Edinburgh and says we are 'Better Together', and to Brussels to say we are better apart - I say we are better together in both.

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