Give us EU referendum now, says Keith Vaz

Keith Vaz Keith Vaz says Labour should have debated Europe at their annual conference

Keith Vaz has called for an immediate referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, accusing the Labour leadership of avoiding the issue.

The former Europe minister - who backs Britain's membership - said the British people had to have their say.

He said he was "disappointed" Ed Miliband had not mentioned Europe in his big speech on Tuesday.

Mr Miliband has not ruled out a referendum but has said now is not the right time for it.

But Mr Vaz argued at the Fabian Society Fringe meeting in Brighton that this position was not sustainable, with the Conservatives promising a referendum in 2017 and a general election approaching.

'Best speech'

"The party cannot duck this decision. I believe very passionately that we should have an in/out referendum and this should happen as quickly as possible," said Mr Vaz.

"It is not just about UKIP it's that the British people are as interested and concerned about Europe, as they are about the economy, as they are about immigration.

"And this cannot remain a Westminster village story.

"We have to trust the British people. They want the chance to have a say and we should give them the chance to have a say."

He praised Mr Miliband's conference speech as "one of the best" he had heard from a Labour leader, but he was still "disappointed" there had been no mention of Europe - and no opportunity to discuss the issue at conference.

"There hasn't been a debate, there isn't going to be any debate, on Europe. There was a speech by Glenys (Kinnock) but no real debate on these issues. I think that's a mistake.

"If we don't debate these issues, others will. So let's have a referendum, lets have it as quickly as possible and let's put our case to the British people."

'Fake renegotiation'

The chairman of the home affairs select committee attacked the party leadership's current stance on the referendum issue, saying: "We simply cannot go to the British people and say to them support the European Union, we are going to reform it in the future. We have to set our stall now."

Mike Gapes at Fabian fringe meeting Mike Gapes urged Labour to make a 'positive' case for EU membership

He also poured scorn on David Cameron's promise to bring powers back from Brussels before holding a referendum, predicting it would not happen.

He said that if the prime minister was re-elected in 2015 he would not have the time to hold bilateral meetings with 27 EU nations and those countries would not want to "indulge" Britain by taking part in "fake renegotiations".

YouGov polling guru Peter Kellner warned "people around" Ed Miliband, who were contemplating a referendum pledge, that it would be a foolish move.

If Labour won the next election the vote would be held in mid-term, with what would probably be a Eurosceptic Tory leader, he argued, and that meant there was a good chance Britain would "end up leaving" the EU, something Mr Miliband did not want and would not be good for Britain.

He told the meeting the policy had been dreamed up by the Conservatives because they were "scared" of UKIP.

Labour MP Mike Gapes also made the case against a referendum, saying that if people wanted out of the EU they could vote UKIP and Labour's job was to make a "positive" case for Britain's continued membership.

But Lord Glasman, an academic whose "Blue Labour" philosophy was a key early influence on Ed Miliband's leadership, said a referendum was needed as it could lead to the return of "democratic self-government" in the UK.

Former Labour minister Graham Stringer also argued the case for a referendum, on the grounds EU powers had greatly expanded since the 1975 referendum.

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