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How to stop the clock and stay in

In a Europe of rising populism it will not be easy, explains Nick Clegg, but the liberal centre should keep the faith

In their darkest hour, pro-Europeans are looking for someone to help them keep the faith. The former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg should be well placed to be that person. Half Dutch, with a Spanish wife and six languages to his name, Clegg is the embodiment of a modern European man. He spent his early career working for Commissioner Leon Brittan in Brussels, and was then in the European Parliament. His political connections stretch across the continent, enabling him to understand the view from other European capitals.

When we sat down with him by the Thames, however, Clegg sounded like his faith was faltering. The European project is battling, as he put it, “existential challenges”, which could “of course” cause it to collapse entirely. Eight wearing years have passed since the cheerful young Clegg wowed the nation in the election debates. But the tone of anxiety is not the product of those grinding and sometimes humiliating years of coalition, or even the more recent experience of losing his seat at the 2017 election.

No, his dark tone is much newer. His recent book, How To Stop Brexit, teasingly described his British compatriots as parochial, insular and semi-detached Europeans. For Clegg, we never really understood the visionary purpose of the continentals, only signing up in the 1970s as “a half-hearted punt that we might be able to reduce the price of butter.” As late as last autumn, when that book came out, Clegg had dared to hope, in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s election victory in France, that the populist moment was beginning to pass. It seemed to him then reasonable to hope that, as part of that wider passing of populism, the Brexit error would soon be exposed and that a slap of reality would bring Britain back to its senses.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Zoe Williams argues that the first thing we need to do if we are to remain in the EU is to tackle the reasons why so many wanted out—namely pay and conditions at home and the impact of unfettered capitalism. Prospect’s Alex Dean and Tom Clark interviewed former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who says the liberal centre should keep the faith—there is another way to work closely with Europe, but the immigration question is central to finding that solution. Meanwhile, a group of writers including Wolfgang Münchau, Shashank Joshi and Owen Hatherley explain some of the pitfalls, prizes and things you hadn’t thought about when it comes to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Elsewhere in the issue: Former UK diplomat Tom Fletcher profiles the out-going UN human rights chief who is causing a stir by saying the things nobody else would dare. Steve Bloomfield asks what happened to Seymour Hersh—how did the legendary journalist come to echo the thoughts and ideas of Bashar al-Assad; and Phil Ball examines the crisis of male infertility asking: where has all the sperm gone?