Interview with Nick Clegg for abc internacional Spain.
Translation from Spanish by: Carlos Conde Solares
– Former Deputy PM believes there will be a second referendum once the British public comes to terms with the actual costs of leaving the EU.
Nick Clegg will be 50 on the 7th of January. He was the fresh face that galvanised the country as leader of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 general election. He then became Deputy PM, in coalition with David Cameron. He was made to pay for it in the 2015 election, losing all but eight of his 56 MPs. This collapse led to his resignation. Today, he is one of the most influential MPs in Westminster, and one of the flag-bearers of the anti-Brexit movement.
His mother is Dutch, his father is an English banker and his ancestors were once part of the Russian nobility. He is a multilingual Europhile, and a graduate of Cambridge University. His sons are Antonio, Alberto and Miguel. This Spanish strand is due to his wife, the brilliant lawyer Miriam González Durántez, from Valladolid, with whom he spends his summers in Olmedo (Castilla y León). Clegg is an engaging essay writer, and has just written a most honest reflection on his own rise and fall. His book, entitled ‘Politics’, is a vindication of the centre ground against the rise of populism. He speaks with great passion from his austere office in Westminster, from which we can see Big Ben.
– Were you surprised by the result of the referendum? Were you afraid of this possible outcome?
NC: I was confident people would vote Remain, until a week before the vote when I went back to Sheffield, my constituency. I noticed that the mood was very different than the polls had suggested. That’s when I listened to George Osborne announcing tax rises and further cuts for local schools and hospitals if Remain didn’t win. People got really angry. His threats were ridiculous and I got really worried. In Northern cities with economic problems like Sheffield, voting Brexit was not just about voting against the EU, it was a vote against London, against Westminster, against Osborne and his threats. The vote was more anti-London than it was anti-Brussels.
– Watching the debates, there was also an element of emotional nationalism. The public seemed thrilled by talk of the UK’s greatness and its independence from foreign forces. It reminded me of the victimism of Catalan nationalists in Spain.
NC: Emotional nationalism is the same all over the world. The feeling, the passion, is much stronger than the rational calculation of costs and benefits of Eu membership. If you’re Italian, French or Dutch, like my mother, your commitment to the EU is incredibly strong, because the EU is perceived as a fundamental act of peace after WWII. If you’re Spanish, Greek or Portuguese, the EU means democracy. I still remember, twenty years ago, Miriam’s, uncle’s pride because Spain had transitioned to full membership at the top table of democratic nations. But in the UK, when I was a child and people voted to join, there was no emotion. It was all a calculation, like in a supermarket. We’ve never had psychological roots of affection for Europe, even less so after the 2008 crisis, which damaged the lives of so many people.
– Even so, a lot of people voted Remain.
Yes, 48.1% of people voted Remain, and that’s more people than haver ever voted for any Prime Minister. Frankly, it was extraordinary, because the Brexit brigade were appealing to the hangover of the 2008 crisis and to immigration: they had the best cards, especially considering the role played by the press. We must remember though that 75% of young people voted Remain, and they are the heart of our society. We have a big problem in the country: we’ve taken an enormous decision about our future that has not been supported by those who will live through it. It’s gone directly against them and, for that reason, the decision will have to be reviewed at some point.
– Some believe that Cameron only called the EU referendum because he thought he would be unable to earn an overall majority, meaning that in a new coalition, you would veto the referendum. Is this true?
No. Let me explain. By the end of the 2015 campaign, when there was talk of another hung parliament, I privately reached the conclusion that we would not enter another coalition with Cameron. There was a meeting over dinner with Liberal Democrat colleagues. There was talk of Cameron being desperate and that we should ask for much more this time if we were to support him. But I said that in my mind, it was crystal clear that I would never support a government calling that referendum, because it was impossible to reconcile with my conscience. The referendum was only called to contain UKIP and heal the division within the Conservative Party.
– For many Europhiles you are an anti-Brexit hero, a sort of Quixote. But can it really be stopped?
I am not Don Quixote but I love the comparison, haha. The whole situation is quixotesque. The referendum took place. We lost it and we are still coming to terms with it. But it’s really important for us to retain the option of taking a different decision once we know what it truly entails. We must keep up the pressure on the government, because over the next few years, a lot of people who voted Leave will feel betrayed once they see that the utopia was false. Opinion will then change and every democracy has a right to reflect that change. Only people like Europhobe Liam Fox or tabloids like the ‘Daily Mail’ will maintain that what happened in June 2016 was the Bible set in stone.
– Did the Leave campaign lie?
Yes. Brexit was based on false premises and utter mendacity. What’s about the people that voted Brexit believing what Boris Johnson was saying about reinvesting in our NHS? It was not true. They believed what they were told about everything being perfect and us having more trading opportunities. How will they feel when they see that this was not true? They must have the right to express a different opinion. It’s too early still, but in good time… Look, I am on the way out, but we will see things…
– Tony Blair says similar things.
Yes, we talk a lot and we agree. We can both speak freely. What are these lunatics going to say about it, after years of them howling against Europe? I am sorry, but I am free and these things must be said. We have a government that is completely clueless. Then we have guys like Gove, Farage or Johnson… Even now, five months after the referendum, they cannot agree among themselves about what this means. It’s incredible! And it is shameful. Brexit fanatism is extremely aggressive. These lads, UKIP, the Daily Mail… They try to silence everyone who doesn’t share their point of view, they try to rewrite history. It’s like going back to the 1930s.
– Do you fear your country might break up?
There is an enormous risk, yes. I don’t want our family of nations to break up. But if this Conservative government continues on its path of looking after their party’s interests rather than those of the country, and if there is no credible alternative, frustration and nationalism will grow. There’s no doubt about it.
Thank you Carlos Conde Solares (Chairperson of North East for Europe and member of the Gateshead Liberal Democrats) for the translation from the original Spanish.