‘European at heart’: sense and sensibility behind Nick Clegg’s return

Meta’s president of global affairs is heading back to London, having never hidden his longing for home

Nick Clegg’s Europhile leanings are not just a political and professional matter, as a prominent remainer and former MEP, but a personal one too.

Meta’s president of global affairs has a Dutch mother, a half-Russian father and is fluent in Dutch, German, Spanish and French. His wife, Miriam González Durántez, a leading international trade lawyer, is Spanish.

Clegg and González Durántez have not hidden their longing for home during their stay in California, where they moved with their three children after Mark Zuckerberg hired the former Liberal Democrat leader in 2018.

Clegg, 55, said in an interview last year that his “heart belongs massively 5,000 miles away” while González Durántez posted on Instagram that she felt like “kissing the ground” upon a pandemic-delayed return to Spain last year.

That personal attachment played a role in the revelation on Wednesday that Clegg, Zuckerberg’s point person for dealing with government relations and policy around the world, will partly relocate to London this year. It is understood that Clegg views London as a good base for dealing with issues in Europe and Asia, while the Financial Times, which first reported the story, said personal reasons were a key factor, including being close to his elderly parents.

Clegg has previously expressed his desire to return to Europe, a continent he has described as “very much part of who I am”. Asked by the FT last year if he wanted to spend another five years in California, he said: “No, no …  I’m such a European at heart. I enjoy the work immensely – I’ve got absolutely no sell-by date about the work,” adding that his heart was in Europe.

González Durántez, 54, has been more tongue-in-cheek about the limitations of life in California with Clegg and their three sons, via her Instagram account. Weeks after moving to the US, she posted a picture of the “British corner” of her local supermarket, showing a row of Heinz spaghetti tins with the comment “Brexiteers would be proud”. She also related her horror at encountering tinned tortillas: “There should be an international convention forbidding treating tortillas like this.”

The lawyer, who currently leads the trade and EU regulation practice of the US firm Cohen & Gresser, compared Silicon Valley to the Vatican in an interview with the Times. Living in the centre of the US tech industry, she said, was “a bit like living in the Vatican. It’s slightly insular, massively wealthy. It’s not so diversified and is mostly run by men. So very similar”.

But there are also strong professional reasons for Clegg to spend more time in London. His job as president of global affairs, to which he was promoted in February, involves focusing on regulatory issues, which means a heavy emphasis on the UK and Europe.

Internet regulation is being shaped by the online safety bill in the UK and, in the EU, by the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. The online safety bill, which imposes a duty of care on tech firms to shield users from harmful content, could be reshaped by the new prime minister after its progress through parliament was shunted into the autumn.

According to one regulatory expert, a move to the UK is the right thing to do in that context. William Perrin, a trustee at Carnegie UK, said: “The future of the dominant tech companies is being forged as much by regulation as by the market. Europe and the UK are shaping modern regulation. It makes sense for senior executives to be here.”

So for Clegg’s decision, there is an element of head as well as heart.


Dan Milmo Global technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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