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Brown accuses rivals of leaving Britain weak and isolated

Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused his opponents of leaving Britain poorly defended against nuclear attack and at risk of isolation in Europe, in the second TV pre-election debate on Thursday.

Brown, the Labour Party leader, hit out at rising star Nick Clegg over the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to replacing Britain’s nuclear deterrent and accused Conservative leader David Cameron of allying with extremist parties in Europe.

“Nick, you will leave us weak, David you will leave us isolated in Europe,” Brown said.

A YouGov snap poll immediately after the debate showed Cameron won with 36 percent, followed by Clegg on 32 percent, with Brown third on 29 percent — although Brown’s score was 10 points up on his performance last week.

Another poll showed Clegg came out top, with 33 percent of more than 2,500 viewers questioned by ComRes, while Cameron and Brown tied on 30 percent in second place.

The failure of any runaway winner to emerge in the second debate again pointed to the May 6 election producing a hung parliament, with no party holding an overall majority.

The Liberal Democrats — normally a distant third in general elections — have seen a surge in support since Clegg’s strong performance in the first debate last week when many voters seemed to welcome him as a fresh face.

But in Thursday’s debate on Sky News focusing on foreign affairs, Clegg faced a two-pronged attack from Brown and Cameron over the Lib Dems’ proposal that Britain scraps plans to renew its Trident nuclear missile programme.

Brown said: “I say to you Nick ‘get real, get real’ because Iran, you are saying, might be able to have a nuclear weapon and you wouldn’t take action against them.

“But you are saying that we have got to give up our Trident submarines.

“Get real about the danger that we face if we have North Korea, Iran and other countries with nuclear weapons.”

Clegg argued against replacing the Trident programme at a cost of at least 80 billion pounds (92 billion euros, 123 billion dollars).

“Why take a decision now to commit that amount of money on replacing an old Cold War nuclear missile system when that system has still got several years to run,” Clegg said.

To laughs from the audience, Cameron said: “I have never uttered these words but ‘I agree with Gordon’.

“You cannot put off this decision. You cannot rustle up a nuclear deterrent at the last minute as the Liberal Democrats seem to think you can.”

The three leaders also clashed over Europe, with Brown accusing Cameron of being “anti-European” and repeatedly accusing Clegg of being “anti-American”.

Clegg attacked Cameron’s European allies as “nutters” after the Conservative leader took his party out of the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament to join up with smaller parties.

Brown sought to portray himself as the most serious candidate, saying that if the election was “all about style and PR, count me out”.

The prime minister repeatedly warned that throwing Labour out of office after 13 years risked damaging the economy, telling the audience: “Don’t do anything that puts this economic recovery at risk.”

Cameron meanwhile accused Brown of a dirty tricks campaign, saying Labour were spreading “lies” by distributing leaflets saying a Conservative government would cause cuts in fuel payments and free transport passes for pensioners.

Clegg dismissed as “rubbish” accusations of wrongdoing after a story in the Daily Telegraph paper revealed that three businessmen paid up to 250 pounds a month into his bank account in 2006, a year before he became party leader.

Sensing that the Lib Dems could have a key role to play in a hung parliament, Clegg sought to strike an optimistic note, saying “people are beginning to hope that we can do something different this time”.

He added: “If we do things differently we can be a force for good in the world.”