EU referendum 'unlikely' under Labour, says Ed Miliband


Ed Miliband: "The Conservative government offers... an all-consuming and damaging obsession with whether we should leave the EU"

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An EU referendum is "unlikely" to take place if Labour wins the next general election, Ed Miliband has said.

In a speech in London, the Labour leader said there was an "overwhelming economic case" for EU membership.

But he said he did not back an "inexorable" process of political union and Labour would "guarantee" an in-out referendum if the UK was being asked to transfer more powers to Brussels.

David Cameron: "Under Labour there won't be a referendum"

David Cameron said only the Conservatives would "guarantee" a vote.

The prime minister has promised an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 if his party wins an outright majority at the next general election.

How EU referendum policies compare

  • UKIP: An immediate referendum on whether the UK should be in or out of the European Union
  • Conservatives: Renegotiate terms of UK membership with referendum on whether the UK should be in or out of the EU in 2017
  • Labour: A referendum on whether the UK should be in or out of the EU only if there is a proposed transfer of more powers from London to Brussels
  • Lib Dems: A referendum will be needed to approve any further "significant" transfer of powers from London to Brussels

Labour has previously backed a referendum, if it is proposed that further powers are transferred to Brussels.

But Mr Miliband has now clarified that this would also be on the single in/out question.

He said the UK was "being dragged to the exit door" under Mr Cameron and he was setting out a "clear lead" on when a referendum would be appropriate.

He promised a "new lock" to guarantee "no transfer of powers without an in/out referendum without a clear choice about whether Britain stays in the EU".

Start Quote

This is a promise of reform and a referendum but not, as they used to say in Star Trek, 'as we know it'”

End Quote

He also criticised the prime minister for creating an "arbitrary timetable", ensuring 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 EU reforms were required, 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 could be achieved without a new treaty, he argued.

'Huge damage' possible

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said while it was "unlikely" that a future Labour government would agree to transfer powers to Brussels during the next parliament, it was not "impossible", given the uncertainty over the eurozone's future direction.

The pro-European Labour peer and ex-cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, who is also a former European commissioner, said there was "strong potential consensus" across the EU for the sort of reforms Mr Miliband was proposing.

"Don't have a referendum just for the sake of having one," he said. "It would bring huge damage, a risk to investment and to our economy."

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.

Lord Mandelson: Miliband's stance on EU referendum is "courageous"

"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."

Mr Cameron said Labour's position made "no sense whatsoever" and reflected the party's "we-know-best" approach to politics.

"It is not a proposal for an in/out referendum," he said.

"The British people now have a very, very clear choice. At the next election they can elect a Conservative government that will renegotiate Britain's position in Europe and give people a guaranteed in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

"If they get a Labour government, they will get no referendum, no choice, no reform, nothing. It couldn't be clearer."

Literature handed out during 1975 referendum Britons were last asked to vote on membership of the "European Community" in 1975

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".

'Comments welcome'

Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "It's the Conservatives who changed position under pressure from their backbenchers and UKIP."

He added: "Clearly it's affecting business decisions, creating uncertainty about whether Britain will have access to the biggest single market in the world."

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Mr Miliband had put "himself squarely on the side of the Westminster elite and against the British public".

"He won't support policies to control immigration and now he won't even allow people a vote to take back self-government and the power to control immigration," he added.

The CBI business group welcomed Mr Miliband's comments, saying it "strongly" supported his view "that we are better off in a reformed EU than outside with no influence".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1475.

    I don't believe any of the three party leaders will take any notice of the wishes of the British people.They are all well known for not keeping promises they make.We will not get a referendum till we give them the answer they want

  • rate this

    Comment number 1448.

    Miliband would have us believe the Tories are obsessed by the EU. Be that as it may, he again fails to address the 30 million or so people who do care about our relationship with the EU. Most of them have yet to be afforded their say in the matter. That is the real issue here - not party politics. In truth, few people give a fig for party politics anymore. Just let the people have their say. Easy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1419.

    Hooray!! At last we have the option of voting for a party who don't want a referendum. That's who I'll be voting for. I fail to see why, after 39 years or so in the EU, we suddenly need another referendum. We don't have referendums to decide whether we stay in NATO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1401.

    The European common market has been a missed opportunity by succession of governments. Countries such as France and Germany capitalised by buying British companies and expanding operations into the UK, our government on the otherhand, like all shorted-sighted governments since the 60s, failed to promote British business and see this coming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1347.

    We signed up to a free trade area, not a political union. What we signed up to has morphed into a different beast, and with the advent of the Euro, further steps toward political union are inevitable. What's so wrong with renegotiating to get back to what we joined originally - a free trade bloc? Germany will support this as it won't want to lose its biggest EU trade partner. Seems a winner to me.


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