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Debates set up for Clegg and Farage
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is to go head to head with Ukip's Nigel Farage in two broadcast debates on the European Union in the run-up to the May 22 elections to the European Parliament.
Following negotiations between the parties and broadcasters, a radio debate will take place on LBC on March 26, hosted by Nick Ferrari, and a televised debate on BBC2 on April 2, hosted by David Dimbleby.
The fiercely pro-European Deputy Prime Minister challenged Mr Farage to a debate a fortnight ago, and the announcement of the arrangements came as Mr Clegg used a speech in London to ramp up his attack on the eurosceptic party's leader.
Mr Clegg said: "I challenged Nigel Farage to a debate because I wanted the British people to see that there is a very real choice at the upcoming European elections: between the Liberal Democrats as the party of 'In' and Ukip as the party of 'Out'.
"I am delighted that it has been confirmed that these debates will now definitely happen. I'm relishing the prospect of talking about how the Liberal Democrats are fighting to keep Britain in Europe to protect British jobs while Ukip want to yank us out and threaten our recovery."
In a speech to the Centre for European Reform think-tank today, Mr Clegg accused Ukip of having "let down" British interests within the EU.
"You would have thought that if your world view was based on the idea that it has been bad for Britain for us to be part of the EU, a party such as the UK Independence Party would have used its berth in the European Parliament to find every possible opportunity to promote reforms that create British jobs, enhance British security and that enhance the British way of life in the European Union," he said.
"Yet the record shows almost precisely the reverse. Ukip leaders don't turn up to vote most of the time.
"Nigel Farage hasn't tabled a single amendment to the flow of legislation passing through the European Parliament since July 2009.
"They have not only let down the case for the reform of the European Union, they have let down British interests within the heart of the European Union."
He said Mr Farage and his colleagues had failed to support issues that would help Britain - pointing out that they abstained on the EU-US trade agreement and voted against mobile phone roaming regulations that cut costs for holidaymakers.
Mr Farage responded: "Nick Clegg has some cheek raising attendance and voting records. Although Nick Clegg ... lives in London, between 2010 and 2014 he has voted in Westminster only 22.6% of the time.
"By contrast, I live eight hours away from Strasbourg, lead a national party and have voted 55% of the time in the European Parliament.
"Furthermore, from 2005 to 2010 Nick Clegg's voting record in Westminster was only 42.5% and for much of that period he was not leader of the Lib Dems. Can you please explain the criticism, Mr Clegg?
"And by the way, some of our Ukip MEPs have a very high voting record, with Stuart Agnew 91%, Derek Clark 80%, and Roger Helmer 88%."
Mr Clegg also hit back at his Conservative coalition partners after Chancellor George Osborne used yesterday's meeting of the Cabinet to suggest an EU referendum bill should be included in the Queen's Speech.
He warned that Tory plans to renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership and then stage a straight in/out referendum after the general election were doomed to failure.
"I think their view is misguided, mistaken and cannot be delivered," he said.
"It would condemn the next government to years and years and years of mind-numbing travel and negotiations to try to cobble together a package that will never satisfy (arch-eurosceptics) Bill Cash and Liam Fox."