A future Labour government would not hold an in/out referendum on EU membership unless there are moves to transfer fresh powers to Brussels, Ed Miliband says.
The Labour leader insisted he was determined to reform the EU if elected in 2015, and pledged a legal lock that would guarantee an in/out vote if Westminster was asked to hand over more control. But he made clear that he believed that was “unlikely” to happen in the next parliament.
The announcement was immediately seized on by Prime Minister David Cameron, who pledged in January 2013 that a future Conservative government would hold an in/out referendum by 2017. He said it was now clear that the only way to secure a referendum was to back the Conservatives.
He added: “It is not a proposal for an in/out referendum. It is a policy clearly designed by a committee who obviously couldn’t agree what to do and have come up with a policy that makes no sense whatsoever. It is the classic Labour ‘we know best’ approach to politics.”
Speaking at London Business School, Ed Miliband said that while a future Labour government would not be part of an “inexorable drive to an ever closer union” in Europe, there were no current proposals to extend the EU’s remit.
“So today I am announcing that the next Labour government will legislate for a new lock. Not simply a referendum on any treaty change proposing a transfer of power, because there have been too many referenda like that in other countries which have been ignored, but a lock that guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers without an in/out referendum, without a clear choice about whether Britain stays in the EU.”
What do the voters think?
In an October 2013 poll, YouGov found that 62 per cent of people wanted a referendum on British membership of the EU, with 21 per cent opposed.
Among Labour voters, 49 per cent supported a referendum and 33 per cent opposed one.
Asked in March 2014 how they would vote in a referendum, 41 per cent said they would opt to stay in the EU, with 39 per cent saying they would vote to leave. This is significant: YouGov polls usually show a majority in favour of leaving the EU.
Before his speech, the Labour leader said in an article in the Financial Times said he was offering “the British people a clear choice at the next election”.
But the announcement was criticised by some Labour MPs, with Graham Stringer saying it was a “shoddy compromise” that would not convince voters. Mr Stringer added: “I think the public are very clear that they want a referendum. This is so ambiguous as to be impossible to sell on the doorstep.”
John Mann said told BBC Radio 4: “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.”
But former Labour minister Gisela Stuart told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What Ed Miliband has now said quite clearly is that he does see circumstances, which may arise sooner than we think if there are treaty changes in relation to the euro which will be required, that will mean a transfer of power.”
One critic of the new stance said it showed Ed Miliband as the "great procrastinator" he'd always been accused of being pre-2010. Read Gary Gibbon's blog.