EU referendum: Labour splits over how strongly it should campaign for UK to stay in Europe

Worried over the Ukip vote, some Northern Labour MPs want the party to adopt a low profile during the referendum campaign

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Indy Politics

Labour is split over how strongly it should campaign in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union in the referendum to be called by David Cameron.

Some Northern Labour MPs, many of whom saw Ukip come second in their seats at last month’s election, want Labour to adopt a low profile in the referendum campaign so that it does not boost Ukip’s prospects at the 2020 general election.

They say that Labour’s virtual wipe-out in Scotland last month by the Scottish National Party was partly due to their party joining forces with the Conservatives  in the Better Together campaign during last autumn’s referendum on Scottish independence.

Speaking in Brussels, Andy Burnham, one of the candidates to become Labour leader, said the party would “learn the lessons” of the Scottish referendum, adding: “It is my intention to have a separate ‘Labour Yes’ campaign.”

However, Labour pro-Europeans are worried that a separate drive by the party could weaken the cross-party umbrella campaign to keep Britain in the EU. They also believe it would damage Labour to water down its pro-EU stance.

Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe Minister, said: “It would be a huge mistake for Labour to consign itself to irrelevance on the critical issue of the country’s future membership of the EU or the wider issue of how Britain sees its world role.”

Calling on Labour to “stick to its guns” on Europe, Mr McFadden said the party’s troubles in Scotland went deeper than its conduct during the referendum. “There is a difference between campaign tactics and holding to our strategic position. We could not have opted out of the argument to maintain the UK. We are not a nationalist party,” he said.

Mr Burnham and his two main rivals for the Labour leadership, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, said they would not draw the 10 per cent pay rise for MPs proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which would take their salaries to £74,000 a year. The move put pressure on David Cameron to follow suit after Downing Street said he could not block the planned increase.