UK Politics

Labour conference: EU referendum on cards, says Murphy

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Media captionJim Murphy: "I think at some point there will have to be a referendum"

Britain should eventually stage an in-or-out referendum on membership of the European Union, one of Labour's shadow cabinet has said.

Defence spokesman Jim Murphy told the BBC it could take place after the economic crisis ended and the future of the eurozone was more certain.

He added that "almost everyone" in the Labour Party would campaign for the UK to remain in the EU.

But there was no "date circled" for a referendum, he added.

The 17 members of the eurozone, of which the UK is not a part, are expected to back further fiscal and political integration in an effort to prevent a repeat of the debt crisis.

This has led to fears of a "two-tier" Europe developing, with many arguing it could result in the UK leaving the organisation altogether.

'Gigantic distraction'

Labour leader Ed Miliband's close ally Jon Cruddas said last week that the policy review he is chairing would look at the case for an in/out referendum.

But former leader Lord Kinnock described such a vote on Europe as "a gigantic distraction (which) would disable political and economic activity in the rest of the EU".

Speaking to BBC Two's Daily Politics after addressing Labour's annual conference in Manchester, Mr Murphy said: "I think at some point there will have to be a referendum on the EU. I don't think it's for today or for the next year, but I think it should happen."

On closer integration within the eurozone, he said: "I think after that, the time for the referendum will be upon us. I don't have a calendar with a date circled. I think we will do it when the time is right."

Mr Murphy, a former Europe minister who drove the EU's Lisbon Treaty through Parliament, said he would not back a "pick and mix" poll offering voters a range of different options for the UK's future relationship with the EU.

He added: "My preference would be an in-or-out referendum when the time comes. Whenever the referendum comes, almost everyone in the Labour Party, along with the Liberal Democrats and British business, will be arguing we should stay part of the EU, because it is good for our economy and good for Britain."

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "I've said as well that moment may well come but I don't think it's now. I don't think it's a priority today because actually we need to get our economy moving and the European Union economy moving. We need reform in Europe."

He added: "I'm not a saying Jim is wrong but Jim's not saying we need to have that referendum now."

A Labour party spokesman said: "Labour are very clear that this is not a decision we could or should sensibly make now. None of us can fully predict where Europe will be in a few month's time never mind the next few years time. The priority must be sorting out this economy."

Prime Minister David Cameron hinted last week that he might be ready to call an EU referendum after the 2015 general election, saying that the coming years would see "opportunities for a new settlement between Britain and Europe" which would require "fresh consent from the British people".

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