NICK Clegg said existing jobs were not under threat by his plans to scrap a multi-billion pound defence contract on a visit to East Lancashire.

The Liberal Democrat leader wants to cancel part of BAE Syst-ems’ Eurofighter Typhoon project, which provides thousands of jobs at the firm’s Samlesbury plant and throughout the region.

Speaking in Burnley yesterday, Mr Clegg said existing jobs would not be affected as the section he would cancel, known as tranche 3b, had not yet begun. Critics however have said the cancellation would mean job losses in the long term.

During the visit, Mr Clegg also insisted the Lib Dems had a ‘firm commitment’ to restoring the blue-light Accident and Emergency facility at Burnley hospital, claim-ing savings could be made elsewhere in the NHS. Mr Clegg arrived in a media scrum at Life Church, Sy-camore Avenue, yesterday morning to be greeted by dozens of party supporters waving banners, as well as rival demonstrations from Tory candidate Richard Ali and a handful of his followers and independent Andrew Hennessey.

The British National Party also circulated the area, broadcasting from a van with a megaphone.

Once inside the church, Mr Clegg made a direct appeal to Labour voters in the audience to switch to the Lib Dems. Burnley is one of the party’s top target seats, with Lib Dem Gordon Birtwistle and Lab-our’s Julie Cooper the front-runners.

Mr Clegg said: “I know it’s diff-icult, if your family have been voting Labour for generations, to vote for a different party this time.

“But I think you have been let down by Labour... so lend us your support.”

Asked afterwards about the Typh-oon contract, he said projects that had already begun would continue, adding: “This has not been fairly reported. 3b has not yet started. No one who is working with the Ty-phoon project will have their job threatened.”

He said it was not wise to commit billions to the contract with cost pressures elsewhere.

On the hospital he said: “If we make savings we can protect A&E departments and of course reopen the A&E department here in Burnley.”