Why Labour Will Offer an EU Referendum

John Rentoul

EdMilibandAV 300x180 Why Labour Will Offer an EU ReferendumI have written in The Independent on Sunday today about why Ed Miliband will come round to promising an “in or out” referendum at the next election.

I didn’t have the space to get into the question of timing in much detail. If Ed Miliband supported an in-out referendum now, it might happen before the election. The Labour Party combined with the Eurosceptic half of the Tory party would have a majority in the House of Commons.

That was why Rafael Behr wrote last week about how much chaos and division Miliband could sow in Tory ranks if he were to support a referendum. Behr was writing about the debate among Ed Miliband’s advisers over Labour’s attitude to the EU Referendum Bill, the Private Member’s Bill tabled by new Tory MP James Wharton, which will be debated on 5 July.

He suggests a Labour amendment to provide for a referendum next year rather than in 2017, which could presumably be given opposition time to assist its passage through Parliament.

There is no doubt it would be a problem for David Cameron. Ultimately, I think the only way he could block a Bill would be to make it an issue of confidence, which would mean forcing Tory rebels to choose between an early referendum or an early election.

But Behr’s attempt to set out how Miliband would explain his U-turn reveals why it is unlikely:

Cameron is the hostage of his party’s right wing … Everyone agrees on the need for EU reform but it requires diplomacy, while we have a prime minister who can only stumble blindly after Ukip and towards the exit. Sadly, then, the case for ending uncertainty now demands prompter resolution of the basic question: does Britain want European co-operation or not? In or out?

No, I don’t think it works either. It would look unprincipled. That is why I think Miliband is edging cautiously towards promising a referendum in the next parliament rather than trying to force one before the election. Not that this is what he yet intends. I think that he wants to keep his options open, but that he will find himself forced by the electoral logic to take it, between six months and a year from the election.

By then he can make a long-range argument that sounds more principled. He can say that our relationship with the eurozone is changing; that once it is clear that the euro has sorted itself out and the currency will survive, and once a Labour government has secured important reforms to blah, then we should have a referendum to affirm our membership of this new-look thing.

If Labour won the election, or formed a government with the “when not if” Lib Dems, he would then want to hold a referendum rather earlier than Cameron’s planned 2017, because he would want to do it before the question became too tied up in how much everyone hated the Labour government. But that is a subsidiary decision. The first thing is to maximise the Labour vote in the election, and that means being in favour of “giving the people a say”.

Photograph: The last time Ed Miliband fought a referendum

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  • TrueTwit

    The key to holding a referendum on membership of Europe ( which the silent majority support not least because they can keep their Euros from one holiday to the next) is to wait until some of the structural issues of the Euro have been dealt with (Eurobonds) and the economies of the advanced world have stabilized somewhat more and are indeed growing healthily.

    My judgement is that 2016 should see us at that point, so not a bad time to hold a referendum if you want a ‘yes we’ll stay in’ as a result, as I do.

    It was only in the 19th century following disgust with the French revolution and confusion with Darwin that nationalism developed everywhere ( including in the UK with the Waverly novels on Ivanhoe or Arthur’s Tintagel stories posing as history to justify empire). This all lead to a disastrous 20th century of extreme nationalism whether Stalinist or Facist or our own Mosley’s British Union of Fascists or indeed Franco and Salazar. As such the long view is that the creation of the EU was a work of genius and all our problems today are just tinkering with the mechanism, as it has grown so quickly and hence it is strained, not least since the end of Soviet communism in 1989.

    Prior to this period the British well knew that their culture and civilisation was thoroughly European whether through Christianity, Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers Grimm, Beethoven, Monet, French wine or Portuguese Port. Today it may be more about cheap low cost flight weekends in Barcelona, studying or living abroad, yes that drawer full of euros and the European Champions League too but the fact remains true, We are Europeans ethnically and so is our civilization and culture.

    As Winston Churchill knew when he urged the European Union to come into existence, the future problems of modern society like pornography,pollution,money laundering, technology piracy, criminality, resource allocation, tarrifs etc cannot be settled by an individual country but only by a multinational organization with shared interests. The EU is a vital organization that represents those shared interests and so we would do well to stay in it and argue our case, but at the same time all organisations must reform or die and so the argument for the constant evolution of the EU with us in it has an enormous logic behind it,

  • NineteenMiles

    Well put. History shows us what policies of jingoistic nationalism and pig-headed patriotism have ultimately led to all too often.

  • Pingback: Footnote on Labour’s EU referendum | John Rentoul | Independent Eagle Eye Blogs

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