UK Politics

Ed Miliband 'backs return of EU powers' but warns PM over strategy

  • 18 January 2013
  • From the section UK Politics
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Ed Miliband has said a future Labour government would seek to return some powers from Brussels to Westminster to make the EU "work better for Britain".

The European Union must become more "flexible" and responsibility for areas such as industrial strategy should return to member states, he suggested.

He also told the BBC he backed holding a referendum if further powers were transferred to Brussels in the future.

But he said an in-out referendum now would have "big costs" for the country.

He was speaking ahead of a long-awaited speech in which David Cameron was due to set out his view of the UK's future relationship with the 27-member union. However, the speech was postponed due to the Algerian hostage crisis.

He is expected to call for a renegotiation of the UK's existing relationship and to guarantee a referendum on its outcome after the next election.

Asked about the circumstances in which he would back a referendum, Mr Miliband said his party would not hand over any more powers to Brussels without first consulting the public.

'Real damage'

If Labour were re-elected, he said he would not repeal the coalition government's so-called "referendum lock" - a law passed in 2010 which means a public vote would be triggered if substantial further powers were delegated to the EU.

He said "urgent changes" were needed in the EU and Labour would seek to repatriate certain powers - including funding for industry and infrastructure that are part of the EU's regional policy - to ensure the EU "worked better for Britain".

"Regional policy, the way a national government can have an industrial policy, I think there are areas where Britain needs powers back," he told the BBC's Radio 4's Today programme.

But he said Labour would not seek to limit co-operation in other areas, for instance by opting out of the European Arrest warrant.

He did not say during the interview whether he would rule out a referendum in the future to approve any return of powers to the UK from the EU.

'Flexibility'

A group of Conservative MPs called on Wednesday for powers over employment and social legislation to be returned to the UK and safeguards in other areas such as financial regulation but others want to go further and leave the EU altogether.

The fact that the UK would not be joining the single currency in the foreseeable future, including under a Labour government, was evidence that Europe was becoming more "flexible", Mr Miliband argued.

But he insisted the desire for greater flexibility was not the same as having a "looser" relationship and he said uncertainty over the UK's continued membership of the EU would deter foreign investors and reduce the UK's influence, he added.

"The debate here is between essentially those who say 'reform Europe to change it to work in our interests and I fear the prime minister's strategy which is leading us towards exit which will cause real damage to our economy."

He said the prime minister had voted against an in-out referendum in a parliamentary vote in 2011 but had been "dragged" towards a scenario in which such a scenario could happen by a "neuralgic" Conservative Party.

'Walk away'

"Committing now to a in-out referendum has big costs for Britain," he added. "Putting up a big flag 'saying exit, Britain is about to get out - is that a good negotiating strategy? I have to say I think it is a hopeless negotiating strategy.

"The idea that people are more likely to accede to your demands if you say 'you are actually going to walk away and Britain can be sort of written off', I don't believe that is going to help us."

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said Labour's support for the government's "referendum lock" was significant as it committed the party to holding some form of referendum over Europe if, as expected, the eurozone crisis leads to a big change in the EU.

He said it was also noticeable Mr Miliband was not willing to rule out a referendum in other circumstances or even to include a commitment to that effect in his party's next election manifesto if the "pressure really builds".

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