Labour Party won’t give the British people what they want and that is a BREXIT
12 March 2014 Last updated at 01:29
Ed Miliband outlines Labour’s EU referendum policy
A future Labour government would call an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU – but only if it was being asked to transfer more powers to Brussels, Ed Miliband has said.
In an article for the Financial Times, the Labour leader said his party “strongly believes Britain’s future is in the EU”.
He also criticised the Conservatives’ “damaging obsession” with EU policy.
But Prime Minister David Cameron said only his party will “guarantee” a vote.
“By his own admission, Ed Miliband says it’s unlikely there’ll be an in/out referendum on Europe under Labour,” the prime minister posted on Twitter.
Mr Miliband is expected to unveil more details in a speech on Wednesday.
His party has previously backed holding a referendum if it is proposed that further powers are transferred to Brussels.
But the Labour leader has now clarified that this would be an in/out referendum.
“This would not just be a referendum on the narrow question of whether to allow a transfer of powers from Britain to Brussels; as we have seen in other countries, such votes are too easily ignored,” he wrote.
He also criticised Mr Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum in 2017, which he described as an “arbitrary timetable” ensuring that “a Conservative government would be dominated by an all-consuming and damaging obsession within his party about whether Britain should leave the EU”.
Mr Miliband argued that reforms were required in the EU, including:
completing the single market in energy, services and the digital economy
lengthening the transitional period during which restrictions can be curbed on immigration from new member states
making it easier to deport recent immigrants who have broken the law
But these reforms could be achieved without a new treaty, he argued.
“The Labour leader’s hope and aim is to avoid an in/out vote,” BBC political editor Nick Robinson said.
“His promise, however, is that he’ll deliver one if, for some reason, he decides Brussels needs more power than it has already.”
But Labour MP Keith Vaz said: “I’m very happy. It’s hugely exciting because this is the first time a Labour leader has said the words ‘in/out referendum’.
“They’re only a few words but they’re very important.
“There’s such a move towards federalism within the EU that it’s inevitable there will be some kind of transfer of power which means this referendum will happen, even if Ed Miliband seems to think it’s unlikely at the moment.”
Former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Mr Miliband was right “that the priority of the next Labour government should not be an all-consuming debate about leaving the EU”.
He added: “But Ed Miliband is also right that in the event of a transfer of powers from Britain to Brussels we should give the people a vote in an in/out referendum.
“This offers reassurance not only to business and millions of workers whose jobs depend on Europe but also allays the fears of those who are uncomfortable with moves towards ever-closer union.”
‘Trust the people’
Fellow Labour MP John Mann told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight he wanted Mr Miliband to commit to an in/out referendum, even if it is not proposed that further powers be transferred to Brussels.
He said: “Certainly I’ve polled very (extensively) Labour voters in my area, and without question, they’re more hostile than they were to the European Union – significantly more so – and I think that we need to be in touch and we need to be trusting the people.”
Literature handed out during 1975 referendum
Britons were last asked to vote on membership of the “European Community” in 1975
Sir Martin Sorrell, head of advertising and media firm WPP, said: “I would say not having a referendum is better than having one.
“Having a referendum creates more uncertainty. The last thing we need is more uncertainty.”
The coalition has already enshrined in law a so-called referendum lock, promising a vote on whether to transfer further powers to Brussels if the situation arises – but not on whether to leave the EU.
Conservative attempts to legislate for an in/out referendum in 2017 have been thwarted by the Liberal Democrats, which party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg describes as “Britain’s only party of in”.
In January 2013, Mr Cameron pledged that a future Conservative majority government would renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and then give British people the “simple choice” between staying in under those new terms, or leaving the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage last week reiterated his party’s belief that “the majority of British people who want our relationship with Europe to be one of trade and co-operation but not one of political union”.