UK Politics

Ed Miliband: EU not 'biggest issue' at next general election

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Media caption"The biggest issue at the next election will not be whether we should leave the EU," says Ed Miliband

The UK's future in the European Union will not be one of the "biggest issues" at next year's general election, Labour leader Ed Miliband has predicted.

Mr Miliband said UKIP had won over traditional Labour supporters at the local and European elections with simple solutions to complex problems.

But leaving the EU would cost jobs and be "bad for Britain", he said.

The 2015 campaign would be defined by policies on schools, the NHS, and the cost of living, he predicted.

Addressing party activists and journalists at an event in Thurrock, Essex, the opposition leader said: "We've got to rebuild the link between the wealth of the country and ordinary family finances."

'False promises'

He said many people who would previously have voted for his party had turned to UKIP partly because "ordinary working people, people who weren't rich, felt life was getting harder".

The link between the Labour Party and workers had become strained, he suggested. "That is what UKIP has sought to exploit."

Mr Miliband said: "They provide a simple explanation of the cause of our country's problems: Europe and foreigners. And they have an apparently simple solution: to get out of the European Union.

"I have to say: this is not the answer for our country. This will never be Labour's mission or policy under my leadership. Our future lies in looking outward to the world."

Leaving the EU would "harm working people" because many jobs relied on international trade, he said.

'Mission'

Labour had altered its immigration policy but would not make "false promises", he continued.

"In the end, if we are to meet the concerns people have, we need to do far more than have the right immigration policy," he said.

"The normal politician thing to do is to come along and just announce a simple answer. But sometimes there is no simple answer.

"The changes I am talking about in our economy have taken generations to unfold. It will take more than one year or even five years to make the transformation we need."

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Media captionEd Miliband: "Closing ourselves off from the world...will harm working people"

The Labour leader was asked whether he agreed with John Kent, the leader of the Labour group on Thurrock council, that it was "a fundamental mistake not to offer a referendum on our membership of the EU".

Election results

He replied: "We've got the right position for the country. In the end, you've got to do the right thing for the country. And you've got to take a view about what the country wants to see, and then the country makes its choice at the next election.

"Personally, I believe the biggest issue at the next election will not be whether we should leave the EU.

"They will be about the things I've talked about: the cost-of-living crisis, how you reconnect hard work and family finances, the NHS, education; those fundamental issues that will define the future of this country."

Mr Miliband repeated his criticism of zero-hours contracts for leaving workers "short-changed", and emphasised the importance of increasing the rate of house building.

His "mission" for Labour would be to "ensure that hard work means that people can build a better future for their family", he said.

In the English local elections and European elections Labour improved on its performances in 2009 and 2010, when the elections were last held, but doubts have been raised whether they did well enough to suggest they are on track to win a majority at the next election.

Many of the headlines were gained by the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for withdrawal from the European Union and topped the European elections with 27% of votes.

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