UK Politics

Ed Miliband backs 'hard-headed' approach to EU reform

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Media captionDouglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, says the Labour party wants reform of the EU rather than an exit.

Labour should not shrink from "being open about the problems" of the EU and should back a "hard-headed" approach to reform, Ed Miliband has said.

Ahead of negotiations over the EU budget, Mr Miliband told the Sunday Telegraph Labour should not ignore the legitimate concerns of eurosceptics.

But the UK needed to stay in the EU and push for reform to the budget, immigration and austerity measures.

David Cameron is travelling to Brussels this week for the budget negotiations.

In October Labour MPs joined Tory rebels to defeat the government on its strategy to push for a freeze in the budget, instead wanting Mr Cameron to push for a real-terms cut between 2014 and 2020.

The prime minister has insisted a real-terms freeze is more realistic, but he has threatened to use the UK's veto if the rise proposed by the European Commission is not drastically reduced.

Labour's decision to vote for an EU budget cut was seen as evidence that the party is repositioning itself on Europe towards a more eurosceptic position, but Mr Miliband insisted his party could be at once a keen supporter of EU membership and campaign for reform.

'Change is coming'

Mr Miliband told the newspaper: "Too often people have assumed that we have got to make the rise of euroscepticism about the mythology of bendy bananas and bans on chocolate, not the fact that the European budget looks like it's suited to the 1950s and not the 21st century.

"What I would say is - never shrink from being open about the problems of the European Union."

He would not commit to a future referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU, adding there were genuine concerns the UK could "sleepwalk" into exiting the group.

The prime minister has been under pressure from his own MPs to promise an in/out referendum on the EU after the next general election in 2015.

An opinion poll published in the Observer found more than half of British voters (56%) would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said his party could still be pro-European and argue for reform.

'Bring back powers'

He said: "We are very proud of Britain's role in Europe in recent decades and the fact we have seen peace and prosperity in a continent twice in the 20th century"

"But it doesn't help the pro-European case to suggest the status quo does not need change - change is coming to Europe and that is why we will remain a pro-European, pro-reform party, taking a hard headed view of what Europe does well and what Europe does badly.

"Frankly we see the future as Britain being reforming in Europe, not exiting from Europe, and there is a growing number of Conservatives who believe the latter is the way forward."

He dismissed as "nonsense" a call by senior Tory MP David Davis for a double referendum - one to approve a list of powers for the UK to seek to seize back and then an in/out public poll.

Mr Davis, a former Europe minister, said the first vote should be held within a year, before the next elections to the European Parliament in 2014.

"We have got to, somehow, dramatically change our relationship with Europe. Not a little bit of a power here and a little bit of a power there. We have got to bring back lots of powers," he said.

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