, the leader of the British Conservative party came under renewed pressure last night in the second televised election debate for his party’s links with "nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists [and] homophobes
" in the European Parliament.
Speaking as the leaders of the three main parties went head-to-head in Manchester, the former MEP and current Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
attacked the Tory leader for his decision to withdraw from the centre-right EPP
to form the ECR
group after last June's elections.
Mr Clegg was joined in the attack by Prime Minister Gordon Brown
who also accused Cameron of abandoning mainstream politics by allying with "marginalised
" figures in the EU.
He told Mr Cameron that his Conservatives had "walked away
" from French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose MEPs sit with the EPP, and "gone in with right-wing extremists
Describing his opponent as "anti-European
", the incumbent PM said a Conservative government would damage Britain's influence in Europe. "Let us never again be an empty chair in Europe,
" he said.
In response, Mr Cameron repeated his now familiar eurosceptic refrain, restating that he wanted Britain to be "in Europe but not ruled by Europe
", then launching into a criticism over the transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels.
Mr Cameron said the British people "feel cheated
" that a public referendum on the Lisbon Treaty did not take place, but perhaps the perhaps surprising remark came from the pro-European Mr Clegg who said a referendum was needed on whether or not to stay in the EU.
"I would argue we should stay in, not because it's perfect but because I think it's in our interests to do so,
" he said.
The Liberal Democrat leader acknowledged that there were problems with the EU, but added, "it seems to me that we punch above our weight when we stand together in Europe in a world where frankly you have got a lot of superpowers bumping up against each other and where, to coin a phrase, size does matter.
The most disappointing aspect of the evening was that for a session to debate “international affairs” the subject of the European Union only occupied 10 minutes of the whole election campaign.
Amazingly I found myself reacting to the leaders' debate in the same way as the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage
who said, "Is that it? Is all we're going to have a 10-minute debate on the European Union?
” (Needless to say I didn’t agree with the rest of what he said…)