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Labour’s ‘for now’ policy on an EU referendum

23 January 2013

The Tory spinners were in an exceptionally good mood after PMQs today. The general feeling was that Ed Miliband had messed up, and this wasn’t helped by his aides having to clarify that when he told the Prime Minister that ‘my position is no – we don’t want an In/Out referendum’, he actually meant that currently they don’t want an In/Out referendum now.

‘The position has not changed,’ said one party source. ‘We do not think that an In/Out referendum is a good idea. We will not do anything which damages the UK economy.’

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But they added that they were not ruling one out forever. And they were not ruling out a referendum commitment in the manifesto, either. So this is another ‘for now’ position, rather than a commitment of any sort.

All this confusion was exactly what the Conservative party had hoped for from Cameron’s speech. Briefings to Tory MPs on the lines to take on the speech have focused heavily on the opposition’s stance. I’ve seen a briefing sent by the Conservative Research Department this morning which lists what Labour did in government and the party leadership’s stances for now under two headings: ‘You can’t trust Labour on Europe’ and ‘Labour gave away power after power to Brussels when they were in government’. The first line says:

‘Labour doesn’t trust the British people to have their say on Europe. Ed Miliband has said he would not commit to an In/Out referendum ‘now’ and will not confirm if Labour would hold one in the future.’

As an exercise in making Miliband uncomfortable by repeatedly arguing that refusing to commit to a referendum shows Labour doesn’t trust the voters, it all went rather well. Which is perhaps why a Number 10 source, asked after PMQs about some of the less-than-complimentary comments from European ministers such as French foreign minister Laurent Fabius about the PM’s speech, said the following:

‘It’s not always our job to worry too much about what foreign ministers are saying: it’s our job to worry about what the British people are saying.’

Which is an odd thing to say when you’ve spent the past few months trying to read the signals from European leaders before delivering a speech committing to a renegotiation.

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  • Andrew Taylor

    An nteresting response from Labour. It’s all about leadership apparently. That is, I think, they are saying that the elected representatives of the nation’s electorate should completely igonore the wishes of those people who they represent. Er, and who elected them.

    There also appears scant attention paid to the fact that the BBC are reporting this along the lines of ‘Britain throws its toys out of the pram’. Balance has been abandoned.

    Let’s strip this back to basics. The EU is acelerating hell-for-leather towards an ever deepening political and fiscal union. If they all want that, good. I suspect that they don’t, and many with similar concerns to our own are hiding behind our skirts and keeping quiet. Letting the British take all the flak. What is clear is that the majority of British people want no part of a political union. The British people wish to retain their own sovereignty over their own affairs. And I certainly don’t want a Frenchman, or a German, or a Greek to be making decisions about my country and the way it is run. I have zero interest in telling any of them how to run their country. My guess is that most Brits are of a similar mind.

    I don’t want an ‘a la carte’ solution just for the British. Anything negotiated should be for everyone. We want to be good trading partners and counterparties. Everything else, sort out your own house before you come to sort ours out.

    If the other 26 don’t want to negotiate. If they choose to use this as an opportunity to eject us or make us walk, so be it. That puts us back where we were for the majority of the last 1,000 years and we survived OK during that period, it seems to me. I don’t think it will come to that but there are almost 200 countries in this world of ours.

  • David Lindsay

    Who needs a referendum, anyway? “Miliband has ruled one out! Miliband has ruled one out! For ever and ever and ever!” Thus shrieked the BBC. Even though the man from The People’s Pledge on The Daily Politics had not heard him do any such thing. Even though David Cameron only feet away had not heard him do any such thing.

    And even though Douglas Alexander tried valiantly to explain simple concepts to Martha Kearney, including that “We never say never,” but merely continued to hold, in no change whatever to previous policy, that such a thing would not be appropriate at the present juncture. So, never absolutely ruled out, as it had been repeatedly and emphatically by Cameron and Hague until mere hours ago.

    The BBC might have thought that Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair were the appropriate people to interview. But the Labour Whips Office, when not campaigning for Departments of State to take the Morning Star, managed to put up at PMQs the figures of Ian Lavery and Dennis Skinner. They asked about other (and very timely) things, but they made the point by standing up and speaking at all. Seated alongside each other, they had first been elected 40 years apart. The aberration in the middle is now well and truly that: an aberration.

    David Cameron is not going to be holding a referendum until the end of 2017. Or, rather, he is not going to be holding a referendum at all, because he is not going to win the 2015 General Election. Nor need Ed Miliband hold one. Already committed explicitly to two more specific powers for repatriation than Cameron is, and also implicitly committed to the repatriation of agriculture and of fisheries, he could and should simply legislate to those and many more such effects.

    Backed up by Ed Balls, by Jon Cruddas, by John Cryer, possibly still by Dennis Skinner now that there are not going to be boundary changes after all, and certainly by Ian Lavery’s 2010 intake and by that of 2015.

    • HooksLaw

      its labour who gave away most of our rebate – so I think we can take their position on the EU as read.
      Whats more difficult to understand is why people allegedly hostile to the EU want to see a labour govt in power.

      • David Lindsay

        Because they have been paying attention. Unlike you.

  • DWWolds

    The one thing that is overlooked in all these articles and comments on the EU and the referendum is the possibility that the negotiations for ever closer union to save the eurozone might not actually work.

    There have been a couple of articles in Der Spiegel Online recently that highlight this possibility. The first was entitled “EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent” posted on 27 December and the second “Differences of Opinion Mark Franco-German Relations” posted yesterday. Both deal with the differences between the rhetoric and reality of the national positions in the closer union discussions.

    Typical of this is a report in the first of these articles on a dinner hosted by Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, head of the European Division in the German Chancellery, and attended by Phillipple Legilise-Costa, European Policy Adviser to the French President, together with the Piotr Serafin, the Polish Secretary of State for European Affairs.

    To quote; “During the dinner the three men intended to talk about what they believed Europe would look like in 5 or 10 years. Afterwards, Serafin was amazed over the extent to which the two other men agreed on an important point: neither one wants key competencies, like fiscal and labor market policy, to be turned over to Brussels”.

    • Fergus Pickering

      That is most interesting. Thank you for the post

      • DWWolds

        If you go onto Der Spiegel Online then click on Europe you should find these articles. You will have to scroll down to the Archives section for the 27 December one – and the date is given back to front in the American style.

    • HooksLaw

      If these negotiations do not work then its bad news for the Euro. Where then? its fair to say that this new treaty, and there will be one I think, may just kick the can down the road. Since its in our interest to have an economically healthy EU then this would be bad news for us as well.

  • AB

    The natural thing for Labour to do would be to offer a referendum too. Most voters don’t follow the minutiae enough to remember in 2015 that this would have been a reactive stance.
    However, because the choice offered by Cameron is “In on renegotiated terms”/Out this places Labour in a difficult position. It has showed little appetite for renegotiation other than going along with whatever Treaty changes may well happen anyway as part of post-crash reconstruction of the eurozone. It can’t possibly be in favour of repatriating many if any powers. So its offer would have to be “Status quo”/Out. While Cameron post 2015 could campaign credibly for the renegotiated terms he had secured or indeed to switch to campaigning for exit, Miliband would face a real risk of losing a referendum where he had supported the status quo. Particularly as a Conservative defeat in 2015 coupled with there definitely being a Labour referendum would embolden the appeal of a very eurosceptic successor to Cameron. Assuming that Labour didn’t renege on their referendum pledge. Again.

  • toco10

    Red Ed is perfectly incapable about deciding anything and will no doubt call for an independent inquiry into whether the sun is likely to rise tomorrow morning.He really is totally out of touch and grossly incompetent but then so is the Labour Party he purports to lead.

  • Chris lancashire

    It’s just part of Labour’s statist approach – the Party knows better than the people what’s good for them.

    • telemachus

      On Europe labour certainly has a better appreciation of what is good for the people
      Just as MP’s understand the correct stance on capital punishment

      • Chris lancashire

        Hey tele, it’s not just Europe, the Labour Party knows better than the little people on EVERYTHING.

        • Chris lancashire

          And congratulations to the Speccie on that photo; it makes Ed look even more gormless than he really is.

          • DWWolds

            That’s a pretty difficult task!

        • telemachus


          • Chris lancashire

            Which is why we, the little people, get to vote periodically.

            • telemachus

              And thankfully next time we will get it right

              • Chris lancashire


        • the viceroy’s gin

          …so they’re alike with the Cameroons, then?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Says the admirer of Stalin, the apologist for Katyn and the person who advocates “trumped up charges” for legitimate political parties he happens to disagree with. A perfect demonstration of Labour’s core totalitarian values. Thank you telemachus.

        The red rose is only a surrogate for the red star. Be honest, get Stalin as your avatar.

        • CharlieleChump

          The Central Committee’s favourite puppet more resembles Beria the Man of Iron’s henchman and lover of small girls.

        • Noa

          That red rose is the symbol of Lancashire, and I strongly object to its use by Miliband’s tapeworm.

          • Colonel Mustard

            It’s all part of their dishonesty and deceit. To misappropriate a symbol of England and one of its counties (which most of them hate) instead of the red star they would really like to display.

  • Dicky14

    Labour don’t trust the public shock. I bet the Kinnocks are happy, the disgusting windbags.

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