Nick Clegg said he has not had any conversations with Labour MPs about defecting to the Lib Dems, as he warned the left not to "unwittingly" help take Britain out of the European Union.
Tim Farron claimed he was not a "home-wrecker" today as he was pushed to reveal how many Labour MPs were thinking of jumping ship. The new Lib Dem leader has claimed at that least "more than two" have approached him since Labour elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
However Clegg told The Huffington Post this afternoon that he had not spoken to any Labour MPs about defections. "I haven't had any conversations, no," he said. And the former deputy prime minister avoided answering when asked if he would encourage them to do so.
Labour’s deputy Leader Tom Watson has dismissed the idea any of his MPs would leave the Opposition to join with the current 8 Lib Dem MPs. "That would be like leaving the Beatles to join a Bananarama tribute band," he told the BBC.
Corbyn has long had an ambivalent or even hostile view of the EU. His apparent refusal to commit to campaigning in favour of membership in the upcoming referendum was cited by Chuka Umunna as a key reason why he could not serve in the shadow cabinet. Last week the new Labour leader reportedly agreed to commit Labour to the EU after talks with pro-EU shadow cabinet ministers.
Speaking at an event on the fringe of the Lib Dem conference today, Clegg urged trade unions not to advocate withdrawal from Europe . Earlier this month the Trades Union Congress warned if workers' rights were "undermined" by the renegotiation their support for EU membership could be not guaranteed.
He said there was a "potentially dangerous turns in the road, which could, if we are not careful, partly through the trade union movement, partly through what is going on in the Labour Party, mean the left unwittingly ends up going the job and handiwork of the right in this forthcoming referendum".
Clegg warned of a "hopeless spiral" in which the forces of the pro-EU right and left of British politics accidentally "end up conspiring" with each other to "sow the seeds of doubt" about membership.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Farron was asked how many Labour MPs he had spoken to about defecting. "We can establish that a number of people that I’ve spoken to in the last week or so, speak to me in complete confidence and speak of their immense angst at their situation in the Labour Party. They may be members of the Labour Party for many, many, many years and have seen their party change almost overnight," he said.
"My job as Liberal Democrat leader is not to be a kind of home-wrecker for Labour MPs but it is to provide a home for Liberals and Social Democrats wherever they may currently be."
In an interview with the BBC's World at One programme today, Clegg also revealed he prevented Cameron appointing former Tory leader Michael Howard as the UK's EU commissioner. "I definitely blocked that because we don’t need a sort of touch of the night in Brussels on behalf of Britain," he said.
And in his speech to the conference floor, Clegg said the EU referendum was the most "momentous decision this country has faced in a generation".
"Do we want our children and grandchildren to live in a once great country now pulled apart? A Great Britain turned into a Little England, drifting friendlessly somewhere in the mid Atlantic?" he said.
Clegg also used his speech to defend the general election campaign, which saw the Lib Dems reduced to just 8 MPs. "I realise there are some who feel that pinning our colours to the centre ground risks sounding a little insipid, a neither-on-the-one-hand-nor-on-the-other kind of party," he said.
"I'm not sure we had an obvious strategic alternative - but I accept that criticism and take full responsibility for it. But what I don't accept for one second is that the liberal, progressive, modern centre ground of British politics is an insipid place to be."