Labour - a referendum or no referendum on Europe?

Ed Miliband Image copyright Reuters

How do you ensure that the next Labour government is not paralysed by a referendum on Europe without ruling out ever giving the public a say?

That is the problem that Ed Miliband is trying to fix.

So, on the one hand he attacks David Cameron for setting out an "arbitrary timetable" for a vote in 2017 and warns that "a Conservative government would be dominated by an all-consuming and damaging obsession …about whether Britain should leave the EU".

And on the other he promises that in what he calls the "unlikely" event of powers being transferred from Britain to Brussels there would be an in/out referendum.

What's more, he's promising to change the law to guarantee that.

Mr Miliband insists that he wants to reform Europe but that this can be achieved without a new treaty and, therefore, a public vote. In an article for the Financial Times he sets out a wish list of reforms:

  • The completion of the single market in energy, services and the digital economy
  • Longer transitional periods before citizens from new member states can work in the rest of the EU
  • Reforms to prevent parents claiming child benefit and child tax credits for children who live abroad
  • Making it easier to deport recent immigrants who have broken the law

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

The Labour leader's hope and aim is to avoid an in/out vote. His promise, however, is that he'll deliver one if, for some reason, he decides Brussels needs more power than it has already.