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.

James 's picture

Perhaps there is one person we should trust to deal with our Eurosckeptic if not naive foreign policy, and he seems to know what to do when UKRAINA wishes to associate with the EU...

Ann's picture

First of all, exactly what is left in the way of UK POWERS that our ED would decide to hold a REFERENDUM re the European Union if the people of were forced to pay to give them away to foreigners?

Our REFERENDUM is already booked Ed and it is to be held in 2015 under the name of a "General Election". As we know already Dear ED, that all three major Political Parties want to remain in the EU- forever, at least as long as there is no reduction in the House of Commons and all continue to be paid and all those that sit on those green Benches can "ACT" as if they are Governing this once GREAT Country of course, but the people are moving on and will only vote for anyone that want wants out of the EU-forever. It matters not if those they vote for have never Governed before, for they have a number of GREAT guides our very own Common law Constitution, all to be dusted down and USED.

Barry Davies's picture

Well James as you mentioned the Ukraine can you tell us the usual democratic response the eussr has to referenda that do not go the way it wants? Could it be vote again until you "get it right".?

James's picture

Ah, now you mention it, we have it! Now that the USSR has finally shown us how a referendum can work - first you send in the speznast in plain uniforms, complete with balaclava and AK47,then you add the odd agitprop mob with friendly and fraternal flag waving surges. After all this popular jubilation you hold a plebiscite (you may call it a referendum) then Putin speaks and gives us lessons on democracy. So now over to UKIP to apply all this enlightenment to the eussr (your words) so we can have a fair escape from their nasty clutches. Dream on!

Barry Davies's picture

You forgot the part of where the elected president had been driven out of the country James. Where do you think democracy resides in the eussr, the unelected president rumpy, or the unelected president barosso, it certainly has nothing to do with the elected parliament, or the elected parliaments of the previously free and democratic nations, that is why the eussr has such a bad tack record with any form of democracy such as a referendum anywhere in the world.

James 's picture

Do you think Janacovich to be a shining example of Democracy? And Putin? Even Putin realized that the ex president of the Ukraina has become a spent force. Is he not a "dead Parrott"? Don't forget that patriots in pre war Germany were inclined to believe in the promises of Adolf and his love of territorial expansion, many did also vote him in. I just hope that the need for a strong EU is clear even to you and other patriottic nationalists! Or perhaps Munich and Chamberlain and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, then Poland and - in due course France etc and then the Blitz - need us to hurridly review our skepticism over Europe and our part in it. A referendum is useful if there is something to change. Personally we elect our representatives to Westminster and we should allow them to decide difficult issues!

evad666's picture

Interesting still no coverage of the UKIP Lib Dem debate and the public reaction to the debate.

evad666's picture

Mr Miliband surely wants his Tuscan Villa like Tony before him and will claim to have turned water into wine to get a cosy EU sinecure .