Miliband under pressure to commit to early EU membership referendum
Such a commitment would make a popular vote on whether to stay in the EU almost inevitable
Labour leader Ed Miliband is under pressure to commit to an EU referendum. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
Ed Miliband, the pro-European leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party, is under pressure from colleagues to commit to a snap referendum on EU membership.
Such a commitment, alongside prime minister David Cameron’s promise of a referendum, would make a popular vote on whether to stay in the EU almost inevitable, irrespective of the outcome of the next general election due in 2015.
Mr Miliband, buffeted by allegations of weak and indecisive leadership, is being urged by senior party figures to seize the initiative over Europe at his party’s annual conference next month.
They want him to outflank Mr Cameron by offering an in-out referendum at the earliest opportunity, ending business and political uncertainty about Britain’s European destiny.
Mr Miliband argues that Mr Cameron has cast a cloud of doubt over Britain’s economic recovery by committing to a referendum in 2017. Some advisers are pushing him to end that uncertainty by calling for a poll much earlier.
Ian Austin, a shadow work and pensions minister, has called for Labour to push Mr Cameron to hold a referendum in 2014 – before the next general election — or on the same day as the 2015 election to settle the question “once and for all”. Another option being pressed on Mr Miliband is to commit an incoming Labour government to a referendum in autumn 2015 to capitalise on a post-victory honeymoon period.
One party aide said an early referendum was being discussed as a centrepiece of Mr Miliband’s conference speech. “The idea is that it would be a truly eye-catching announcement,” the aide said.
So far, Mr Miliband has argued that Labour should only hold a referendum if a new EU treaty was agreed that transferred power from Westminster to Brussels — an eventuality that is by no means certain.
The Labour leader fears that if he commits to a referendum in any circumstances, he would be gambling with his political future. If Britain voted to leave the EU, it would almost certainly bring down a pro-European Labour government.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)