Nick Clegg: I Could Not Have Backed Brexit Referendum

Nick Clegg
MP Nick Clegg arrives for the funeral service for Charles Kennedy at St. John the Evangelist church in Caol, Scotland, Britain June 12, 2015. Clegg wrote to voters in the Witney by-election to position the Liberal Democrats as the party of the moderate and the Conservative as the new hard right and the LibDems showed a resurgence in the result. Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Read Newsweek's full interview with Nick Clegg here

Nick Clegg has revealed that he would never have entered into a second coalition government that promised a referendum on EU membership.

At the time of the 2015 election, Clegg had not publicly ruled out joining a government that offered the electorate a vote on the EU. But he tells Newsweek in an interview to promote his new book Politics: Between the Extremes that he had privately decided against doing so.

"I realised that there was no way that David Cameron could wriggle out of this commitment to his party," he says. "Equally, there was absolutely no way that I could ever consent to it, so I came to my own private view that I…me personally, I could never be part of a government built on what I thought was such a foolish referendum commitment."

Clegg, who led the Liberal Democrats as deputy prime minister during their time in coalition between 2010-15 and now serves as his party's frontbench Brexit spokesperson, says the Conservative Party veered dramatically to the right during the time his party shared power with it.

"We ended up strapped to an animal in coalition, a sort of political beast that just changed completely," he says. "If I'd known at the beginning that we were going to have to govern with an increasingly inward-looking, regressive, angry, chauvinistic, anti-European Conservative party, well of course, not only me, the Liberal Democrats would have…paused for thought much more than we did."

And, Clegg says, Theresa May's government is now set for "gridlock" over the issue of leaving the EU.

"I think this government is just going to descend into gridlock," he says. He sees a crucial mismatch between "the kind of apparent pragmatism that Theresa May espouses in these early stages of the Brexit negotiations," and the Brexiters' "swivel-eyed view that we can return to 19th century untrammelled parliamentary sovereignty."