The genie is out of the bottle and it can’t be put back in. Britain will have an EU referendum in some form at some point – and Labour will be forced to promise one in the 2015 manifesto.
Labour didn’t choose this fight – and now is the wrong time to be having the debate, when the focus should be on the economy – but if the party believes (rightly) that the prospect of 4 years of uncertainty is bad for the British economy, believes that uncertainty over Labour’s position will force a decision sooner rather than later and truly wants to act in the national interest (and seize the initiative, and the democratic case, back from the Tories) then Ed Miliband should stand up at PMQs today and call for an EU referendum.
Not in 2017 though – that’s too far into the future and will only serve to ramp up uncertainty and hyperbole. Miliband should call for a referendum on election day 2015 (as we know the date in advance). Better that British business – and our ailing economy – should have to deal with the only two years of job-threatening uncertainty than the potential prospect of four. That means securing the highest possible turnout for the EU referendum. Tactically at 2015 election would be a disaster for Cameron, both because he’d struggle to oppose a 2015 referendum, and UKIP would undoubtedly get a boost out of a Europe-focussed election campaign with Cameron making a pro-EU (party dividing) case.
If Miliband coming out for a 2o15 referendum were presented as a u-turn (which would be more than likely considering the right wing media) then better to have that u-turn today when the focus is on Cameron’s speech than a few weeks before the election when Labour’s manifesto is revealed, and it becomes “a thing”.
Ed Miliband is a pro-European Labour leader. At some point he will be called upon to make the case for Europe. Why not start today by calling for a 2015 referendum and pledging to campaign alongside Cameron and Clegg to stay in – and challenging Cameron to go sooner, rather than allowing Britain to become detached from Europe before the vote is even held.