Clegg accuses PM of inflicting 'chilling effect' on jobs, growth

Double whammy: Clegg hits Cameron day after Lib Dem peers vote against boundary changes

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:54 ON Tue 15 Jan 2013

NICK CLEGG today accused David Cameron of inflicting a "chilling effect" on jobs and growth in the British economy by floating the idea of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

By accusing Cameron of pushing the British economy deeper into the freezer on the Radio 4 Today programme, the Liberal Democrat leader has in effect hit Cameron with an ice-pick for a second time in 24 hours.

Only last night, Lib Dem peers in the Lords voted with Labour to inflict an infuriating defeat on the Tories over legislation for Westminster constituency boundary changes which Cameron hoped would give him enough gains to secure a working majority at the 2015 general election.

This morning, Clegg accused Cameron of creating unnecessary uncertainty about Britain's role in Europe by fuelling speculation about the referendum when the PM appeared on the Today programme yesterday. "I don't think it is wise to add to that degree of uncertainty which I believe would have a chilling effect on jobs and growth in our country," said Clegg.

Coming on the same day that HMV put thousands of jobs in doubt after going into administration, Clegg's allegation that Cameron is putting UK jobs at risk will infuriate Downing Street.

It will also undermine Cameron's strategy to strike a careful balance on his promise for a referendum in his long-awaited speech on the EU, which has been brought forward to Friday in the Netherlands. (It was originally scheduled for next Tuesday, which was seen as unnecessarily divisive because it is the 50th anniversary of the signing by France and Germany of the 1963 Elysee Treaty, which set the seal on post-war reconciliation between modern Europe's two kingpins.)

The Liberal Democrat leader made it clear that he believed Cameron would have been wise to stick to the coalition's legislation on an EU referendum which delays a national plebiscite until Cameron has negotiated a new treaty. And that could be years off. It was no time for an 'arcane' debate, said Clegg, when jobs and growth were the priority.

Clegg made no excuses for last night's Lib Dem Lords revolt against Cameron, and accused the Tories of starting it by making a "highly personalised" attack on him during the abortive AV referendum and by killing Lords reform (thus sabotaging two big Lib Dem demands).

Many listeners were left wondering whether this latest spat between the Prime Minister and his deputy has also shoved any future coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems into the deep freeze along with Britain's jobs prospects.

As the eight-minute interview went on, the obvious question became: How can Clegg continue in alliance with Cameron if this is what he thinks? But it was never put to Clegg by presenter Justin Webb. · 

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