Clegg vows to keep Britain engaged in EU, Syria

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Wednesday his Liberal Democrat party, the kingmaker in the ruling coalition, would stand up for the country's role in the EU and in tackling the Syria crisis.

Setting out his pitch for elections in 2015, Clegg said in his keynote speech to the annual conference of the centrist Lib Dems that he wanted to send a message that "this nation is not heading into retreat".

British parliamentarians in August defeated a motion by the coalition government to rule out involvement in any US-led military action against Syria following a deadly chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is meanwhile planning to hold an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership, partly because of pressure from the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

"Britain is always at its strongest and proudest when we are open to the world. That's the message I will take to New York next week when I represent our country at the UN General Assembly," Clegg told the conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

On Europe, Clegg said Cameron's Conservatives "have this bizarre view that we can turn our back on Europe and still lead in the world, as if we'll be taken seriously by the Americans, the Chinese, the Indians, all the superpowers of the modern world, when we're isolated and irrelevant in our own backyard," he said.

Clegg, who is half-Dutch and whose wife is Spanish, said he agreed with Cameron's call for reform of the EU.

But he said the "contorted confusion of the right, the outright isolationism of UKIP" could "jeopardise millions of British jobs and diminish our country's standing in the world."

"Liberal Democrats, it falls for us to stand up for the national interest, we will be the party of 'In'," said Clegg.

The deputy prime minister meanwhile said Britain should keep working with the United States and France on a UN Security Council resolution securing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

"There are some in the world who seek to present us as pulling up the drawbridge following parliament's decision not to consider a military intervention in syria. But they will hear from me that they are wrong," Clegg said.

The shadow of the 2003 Iraq war led to the August 29 defeat of a government motion backing US-led air strikes on Syria.

"What matters now is that we are clear that this nation is not heading into retreat -- it would be a double tragedy if the legacy of Iraq was a Britain turned away from the world," Clegg said.

Clegg meanwhile said that the Lib Dems had to stay in government to curb the worst policies of the centre-right Conservatives or the opposition centre-left Labour party led by Ed Miliband.

"We are the only party that can finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly," he said.