Not so fast, Nick
Nick Clegg’s new book How To Stop Brexit is shrill and bitter, and neglects to mention that his advocacy of the EU has been personally lucrative
The former Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg likes to portray himself as a calm, centrist voice in Britain’s increasingly polarised political scene. So the shrill and bitter tone of his new book How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again) (Bodley Head, £8.99) comes as a bit of a surprise, though perhaps it shouldn’t, given Clegg’s lifelong (and lucrative) support for European integration.
His anger at the success of the Leave campaign in the EU referendum comes through on every page. He is particularly vitriolic about wealthy Leave supporters such as Peter Hargreaves, Stuart Wheeler and Michael Hintze, whom he accuses of acting purely out of self-interest (only Remain supporters, by inference, acted as a matter of principle). There is, alas, no space in his book to list the wealthy, disinterested backers of his own anti-Brexit Open Reason outfit (basically his private office now that he has been voted out of the Commons by an ungrateful electorate), such as the insurance mogul Clive Cowdery, founder of the Resolution Foundation and effective owner of Prospect magazine (£100,000), Richard Branson and George Soros (£20,965 each).
Clegg warns of the damage to the economy that will result from the exit from the City of London to Dublin and Frankfurt of some employees of financial giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, while curiously neglecting to mention that both banks paid him £22,500 for “keynote” speeches, in 2015 and last March. And he is scornful of pro-Leave Cabinet members “taking home six-figure salaries and getting away with their fibs to the British people”, which might be thought a bit rich from a man who took home a six-figure Cabinet salary himself for five years and destroyed his own party with the biggest political fib of his era, the Lib Dems’ pledge in 2010 to abolish student fees, promptly broken once the party went into coalition with the Conservatives.
His essential message is that we should simply ignore the referendum result. He believes that, partly as a result of the Brexit vote, the EU is aware that it must reform. All the evidence may be to the contrary — both the European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker and France’s President Macron have made plain their aim to accelerate the move to the “ever-closer union” always envisaged by the founders of the European project — but never mind. Clegg revives the notion of an EU of concentric circles, the inner one moving fast towards integration, the outer ones less so, “with Britain reintegrated into it at the appropriate level”. He proposes a joint UK-EU Convention, with the task of “repositioning Britain in one of the outer rings of the EU’s orbit”. Ideally it would be jointly chaired by Sir John Major and the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, “a self-confessed Anglophile” whom Clegg greatly admires for defeating his right-wing populist opponent Geert Wilders in the last general election in the Netherlands.
That’s the general election held last March. Last month, little noticed by the British press, Rutte announced he had finally managed to stitch together a four-party coalition after a record 208 days of negotiations. It is generally agreed that he will have his work cut out keeping it together for four years. It appears that Nick Clegg will have to look elsewhere for his Dream Team to keep the UK in the EU.