Labour won’t hold EU referendum before 2020


A future Labour government would only hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union before 2020 if more powers were transferred to Brussels, party leader Ed Miliband will say today (12 March).

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to reach a new settlement with the EU before holding an in/out referendum by the end of 2017, provided he wins the May 2015 election (see background).

But Miliband's calibrated referendum pledge means that if the opposition Labour wins power in 2015, or if it has to share power with the Liberal Democrats, there would be little prospect of a vote on Britain's EU membership this decade.

"I am announcing that the next Labour government will legislate for a new lock: there would be no transfer of powers from the UK to the EU without a referendum on our continued membership of the EU," Miliband wrote in Tuesday's Financial Times.

"There are no current proposals - from either the EU or any member state - for a further transfer of powers from Britain," he said. "It is unlikely there will be any such proposals in the next parliament."

By offering the prospect of a distant referendum, Miliband is trying to weaken Cameron's charge that Labour is afraid of giving British voters the chance to have their say on Europe, and also to underscore the risks of Cameron's strategy, which some investors fear could allow Britain to slip out of the EU.

Miliband, whose party currently leads in opinion polls, said Cameron's "arbitrary" timetable for an EU vote would distract from dealing with Britain's economic challenges, and that Cameron had no support in European capitals for his renegotiation.

Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative party, and the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Cameron says that Britain can reshape its EU ties, though he has so far garnered only limited backing for his plans among fellow leaders.

In his op-ed, Miliband warned that the Conservatives' "damaging obsession" with Europe was spooking businesses, while Labour wanted to work for reform from within the 28-member bloc.

"Britain's future lies in the EU," Miliband stated.

Maidan as a symbol of EU attractiveness

Miliband used the waving of Europe's azure-and-golden-starred-flag by some Ukrainian protesters in Kyiv to argue that voters should not forget the European Union symbolised peace and prosperity after centuries of European strife.

But the 44-year-old Labour leader also cautioned that the EU's reputation was at a low ebb. Miliband said EU leaders should do more to build a better economy and address voter anxiety over immigration.

"If Britain's future in Europe is to be secured, Europe needs to work better for Britain," he wrote in the FT article. "Britain needs to work more effectively for change within the EU."

"Europe should also do more to address anxieties about immigration," Miliband said, adding that there was considerable voter concern that "the EU is intent on an inexorable drive to an ever closer union."

Opinion polls show about 40% of British voters want to stay in the EU while about the same proportion want to leave, though polls also show widespread hostility to immigration and dissatisfaction with established political parties.

Miliband said that a Labour government would find it considerably easier to achieve reform inside the EU without having to attempt to convince 27 other EU member states to rewrite a European treaty.

He said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU's most powerful leader, had refused to support Cameron's plans for fundamental European reform during a visit to London last month.

Merkel, who has said that she wants Britain to stay in the EU, does favour some EU treaty change. But she sees treaty change as much more limited in scope than Cameron and as a way of deepening euro zone integration.

"She explained that he needs unanimous backing to get a new treaty. It is clear he has none," Miliband said.

  • 22-25 May 2014: European elections
  • 18 Sept. 2014: Scottish independence referendum
  • May 2015: UK to hold general election
  • 2017: EU membership referendum proposed by David Cameron


tony a's picture

Miliband: We will promise them a Vote on the EU.
Balls: Is that a good idea?
Miliband: Well not exactly a promise, just like our 'promised' referendum on the EU Constitution, more of a wishy washy nondescript statement that if the UK has reached some imaginary non stated position we will then have a Referendum but only if we agree WE have reached that position.
Balls: What the position?
Miliband: Who knows & who cares, if we do not define it we will never have to trigger the Referendum especially if we simply re-packaged it as something else just like the Treaty of Lisbon.
Balls: What a great idea, it looks like we are giving them a choice when really we are giving them magic beans again.

Iwantout's picture

Let us not forget that this is the Labour Party that is so committed to Britain’s place in the EU that they were the only major socialist party in Europe to abstain in the selection of Martin Schulz as the socialist candidate as president because he is federalist and therefore likely to be extremely electorally difficult for them.

On the funny side, Labour is calling for reform of the EU to cover migration and by implication reducing the “inexorable drive to an ever closer union." Perhaps their EU is an entirely different beast to the one that the rest of us can see.

Rationally European's picture

Ed Miliband should be congratulated on his decision to call a referendum only if and when there is a major transfer to power to the EU . This can be defended vis a vis voters as consulting the people at the appropriate constitutional moment. And vis a vis other member states his decision lifts the veil of uncertainty about UK intentions which is currently destabilising intra EU relationships, meaning Britain ceases to be taken seriously.The left should cease to carp at Labour's wobbly path to this decision. The decision is statesmanlike. The right should slow down its descent into populism. By the way where are the Burkeian principles which once underpinned the Conservative party?

James 's picture

Why a referendunm anyhow? Is it the wish of Mr Farage to will one on us? Then let him get a popular mandate to get enough members to have a majority in Westmenster and legislate. Even a referendum on Scottish Independence shows up the idiocy of doing something on pure emotion whose consequences are all too unclear. We are in Europe and in the EU our best bet is to make it work better and stop whinging. Milliband has that approach and has demonstrated it and this the naivitee of Cameron has not yet fathomed out for himself. Perhaps though there are media assaults on Clegg he has hit the right button on Europe and our place in it.

Barry Davies's picture

Why spend so much time writing out this waffle Milliband won't give us a referendum before 2020, or afterwards either, start middle and end of story, just like camoron won't and clegg definitely won't, the greens, do they have a leader? are so far outside of reality they are trying to work out if we have global warming or cooling or something or another as they only have one policy which is to stop the use of all power and tax us to death for not being able to live, because it is man made whatever it is.