The Labour Party must be bold on the EU – and call for a referendum

14th January, 2014 11:40 am

Late last year, the Financial Times printed an article suggesting that Labour party figures were coming under pressure from politicians in Europe to spell out their position on an EU referendum.

Really we shouldn’t be surprised that confusion over the party’s stance on giving the British people a vote has spread overseas. This is one of the defining issues of the day. Some weeks there are very positive noises and then other weeks, such as happened in late December, someone like Tony Blair’s former Political Director John McTernan will emerge and tell the country that Labour won’t ever offer a referendum.

Having a say on Europe is something that a lot of people feel very strongly about (more on this later) and, if the volume of emails, tweets and arguments that get directed towards both me and Labour for a Referendum are any clue, the void in our EU policy is upsetting our domestic supporters as well as those on the continent.

It was in this atmosphere of uncertainty that Labour for a Referendum launched last summer, committed to raising the issue of, and support for, an EU referendum within the party. As a coalition of those who want to leave and stay in, we were surprised and delighted by the levels of support we received from MPs, peers, councillors and party members, and we believe we set off a debate within the party that continues today. In recent months, the likes of Keith Vaz, Kate Hoey, Owen Jones and Richard Wilson have been joined by Austin Mitchell, Tom Watson and Lord Prescott, raising the status of the issue even further.


I know some Labour Party people are wary of this campaign. They argue that the party needs to focus on core issues – the cost of living crisis that Ed Miliband skilfully identified in the summer and has stuck Cameron on the back foot ever since, the energy bill freeze, the bedroom tax, payday loans.

However I would argue that a prospective future government must be able to confront the big issues of the day, and Europe falls squarely within this bracket. Those who like to point to the issues tracker that places the EU down on the list of voters’ concerns, ought to recognise that the issues that place above it – immigration, economy, even taxation – are all affected, if not determined, by the EU. An EU referendum is also universally popular – with large majorities of, notably, Labour voters backing the call for a vote. And, as the Chairman of the People’s Pledge, I can tell you that we received huge levels of support from those on the Left when we held referenda on holding an in/out vote in seats around the country.

There are now just four months until the EU elections. Allied with the local elections, this should be a vote that the Labour Party is looking to win outright. We can’t just cede victory to Ukip with a resigned shrug because we have been too scared to take a stance on an EU referendum.

The Labour for a Referendum campaign is gearing up.  Will you help me make the case, and help our party win in 2014 and 2015?

John Mills is a Labour Party donor and Chairman of the Labour for a Referendum campaign

  • Ben Cobley

    I’ve changed my mind on this and now believe Labour should offer a referendum as John suggests. I feel it’s about time the country got a proper chance to debate what the EU really is and what it really does. On the left, we too often we talk about ‘Europe’ rather than about the actual practices and institutions of the EU. This means everyone who is naturally open and friendly towards Europeans is pushed into support for ‘Europe’, which then means supporting those institutions and practices of the EU without necessarily knowing anything about them.

    In Labour, I think we need to change to reflect this difference. The fixing that went on in the European selection processes didn’t help, but another thing I noticed was that all the potential candidates in my area (London) were unquestioningly pro-EU (or, as they said, ‘pro-Europe’). We need to be a bit cleverer and question rather more in my view.

    • JoeDM

      “I noticed was that all the potential candidates in my area (London) were unquestioningly pro-EU”

      Hardly surprising. Thats the LibLabCon pro-EU establishment with their ‘Common Purpose’.

  • EricBC

    Certainly is the time for a clear policy.

  • Steve Stubbs

    I don’t believe that anyone thinks that ‘who runs the country’ is not a core issue.’

    We have never been given the opportunity to vote on being part of a ‘European Union’ with ever closer integration as specified by the various treaties..

    We did have a referendum vote 40 years ago on a ‘common market’ which I voted for, not realising that Heath and the establishment were deliberately lying to us about it..

    The current Cameron promise is not worth the paper it is not yet written on, given that either he will not get re-electeed as PM and also give that the timescales for such a negotiation, IGC, treaty agreement and treaty ratification with a 100% agreement requirement means it cannot be done with the period from the 2015 election and the end of 2017.

    • treborc1

      Labour will have to really fight to win the next election and I think the Tories will get in only because of the recovery, and I do think if Cameron was to change his mind now he’d be out in the same way the Tories removed Thatcher.

      If you want a vote on the EU then sadly it will only be through the Tories, UKIP are going to get nowhere sadly.

      • JoeDM

        Cameron has repeatedly stated his support for British membership of the EU. The Tories will never take us out. The referendum is just another Cameroonian fudge.

        • treborc1

          I think we will get a vote, the Tories on the back benches will ensure that, and what is wrong with the public deciding.

          If we mess up we mess up, but at least we decided our own fate.

          If we decide to stay in I will accept that as well, democracy is after all making mistakes and making them our selves not some politician doing it because he can get a few of his mates into the gravy train.

  • PaulHalsall

    It would be a disaster to leave the EU

    • treborc1

      Maybe so, but surely the people of this democracy have the right to make the choice. is that not the definition of a democracy or have I got this wrong, the vote for the common market was not for the EU.

  • IAS2011

    It is clear. the British people are fed-up with Unethical practices, Unfairness and Injustice too… and that’s just from our own government….
    The EU is costing the UK a Democracy that is home grown…. and developed by the bold stance that British people need to enhance to ensure that our relationship remains strong in the EU, but the financial cost for doing so.. does not outweigh common sense.

  • wycombewanderer

    95% of UK busineses do not trade with europe yet 100% of businesses are subject to EU rules.

    Most people in the UK will probably either never visit another European country except for a holiday.

    Holidays to Europe existed before the EU and trade with European countries existed before the EU

    It really is a case of the tail wagging the dog with all these ‘benefits’ of being in the EU.

  • RK

    There is far too much rhetorik being hurled around by these Anti-EU politicians, so that a decision by the people could be an highly uninformed and catastrophic decision. It’s time the UK realised its place in the world as a european state economically — which OF COURSE has political ramifications. If the UK leaves, it will still have to trade and rely on the EU (because unlike other nations like Germany, with whom Japan, India and Russia and practically everyone in the world want to trade with, UK-industry is lagging too far behind), and if a non-member, will have to comply without voice and pay through the nose. Germany, Poland, etc. suffer as well — they what they do not say is, is, “Let’s quit!”, but instead, “Let’s work harder and make this trade union better!” Leaving the EU would mean having to suck up the Americans and NATO even more. Staying in the EU gives us economic and political power in the World, boosts standards in the UK and fosters growth (one need only to look at the figures: our economy GREW first, when England joined — access to the one-market with voice has done good to this country).


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