UK Labour too considers EU referendum, timing unknown

Ed Miliband.jpg

Britain's opposition Labour party is preparing to change its policy on the European Union by pledging to hold a referendum on the country's membership of the bloc at some point if it is elected in 2015, the Times newspaper reported yesterday (26 February).

Citing an unnamed source close to the Labour party, it said Labour leader Ed Miliband would seek to reform Britain's EU ties and back holding a membership referendum, but not by 2017 as Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged.

The report said Miliband was open to changing the bloc's founding treaties and would use any treaty change as an opportunity for a referendum. An announcement was expected in the next two weeks, the article said.

If an election was held today polls suggest Labour would win since they enjoy a lead of around 5 percentage points over Cameron's Conservative party. The next national election is still 15 months away, however.

Labour has yet to publicly state whether it wants an EU referendum, but has been critical of a promise by Cameron, it re-elected, to hold an in/out vote on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017.

If he wins the next election, Cameron has said he would try to reform Britain's EU ties before offering such a vote.

When asked about the Times report, a Labour spokesman declined to confirm or deny it.

"We will keep our position consistent … We have always said that any decision about a European referendum will be based on the national interests," the spokesman said.

"We do not believe committing now to an in/out referendum in 2017 is in Britain's national interest."

Some opinion polls show a slim majority of Britons would vote to leave the EU if given the chance, with many frustrated at perceived interference from Brussels in domestic politics. That frustration has been reflected in the growing support in polls for the anti-EU UK Independence party (UKIP).

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Miliband's backing for a referendum on EU membership would be the "single most important determinant of whether Britain leaves the European Union" because it would dramatically increase the chances of a vote taking place.

A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda in January when Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.

>> Read: Cameron takes gamble with in/out EU referendum pledge

Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.

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