David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed over Europe today as the Labour leader warned that the Prime Minister’s plans for an eventual referendum would create “five years of uncertainty” that would harm British business.
Mr Cameron said it was right for Britain to get a fresh settlement from the EU, and then seek the “full-hearted consent of the British people” for it. He insisted he wanted the country to remain in the EU but ducked questions over whether Britain would still be in the EU in five years and whether he would allow Cabinet Eurosceptics to campaign for a No vote in a referendum.
Two days before Mr Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with Europe, Mr Miliband described the Prime Minister’s position as "an in/out referendum now would be destabilising, but promising one in five years' time is just fine for the country". He said that would result in "a 'closed for business' sign hanging around Britain" for five years.
Accusing Mr Cameron of “losing control” of his party, the Labour leader said: “When it comes to Europe, it’s the same old Tories –a divided party and a weak prime minister”.
Mr Cameron accused Labour of having nothing to say on the substance of the issue. “Millions of people in this country, myself included, want Britain to stay in the EU but they believe there are chances to negotiate a better relationship,” he said.
The Fresh Start group of more than 100 Conservative MPs, who are seen as “pragmatic Eurosceptics,” today published their shopping list of powers that should be returned from Brussels to London in negotiations on a new EU treaty. Their “manifesto for change” demands five treaty changes – handing social and employment laws back to member states; an “emergency brake” to give the UK on financial services directives to protect the City of London; a complete opt-out from EU policing and criminal justice measures; a new legal safeguard for the single market and ending the “travelling circus” which sees the European Parliament meet in Strasbourg.
Andrea Leadsom, a co-founders of Fresh Start, said the manifesto was "very clear" that Britain should remain in the EU but said it must be prepared to leave as a last resort option if other member states blocked change. "It really is an academic question but, in the end, of course, Britain has to be willing to leave if it came to that."