Parliament and Politics: Maastricht treaty: Shadow Cabinet split on referendum widens: Breaches in Labour ranks

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JOHN SMITH faced renewed demands yesterday for Labour to rethink its policy on Europe as support for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty grew in the Shadow Cabinet.

Senior Labour sources were repeating yesterday that Mr Smith will insist at tomorrow's Shadow Cabinet meeting that its members must collectively support stable exchange rates and opposition to a referendum.

But at least two or three more Shadow Cabinet members are now arguing privately that the Labour Party should not rule out a referendum. Bryan Gould and Michael Meacher have already called publicly for a plebiscite, as has David Blunkett, albeit in more coded terms.

Yesterday, Mr Blunkett demanded a rethink of Labour policy, saying the party needed to 'reassess' its stance.

'The lesson of the French referendum must surely be the need for a breathing space while both the ERM and Maastricht are considered afresh,' he said.

Mr Gould again angered some of Mr Smith's closest colleagues by saying the trouble with the treaty was that, while it was fatally wounded, it would not 'lie down and die'. He said: 'What is needed is for our political leaders to have the courage to give it a decent burial.'

Giving his clearest support yet to a referendum, he said: 'If we were to face the prospect of having to endorse the treaty, I would certainly take the view that it should not be done without consulting the British people.'

Some of Mr Gould's senior colleagues believe he cannot remain in post as Labour's national heritage spokesman once Mr Smith demands that the Shadow Cabinet take a collective view. But Mr Gould said it would be 'bizarre', given the way events were moving, if Labour pushed the pace on establishing an overly clear-cut position. He said: 'I hope that what is some irritation on the part of some of my colleagues does not lead them to produce a crisis that need not arise.'

Peter Hain, secretary of the Tribune group of MPs, yesterday called for a 'moratorium' on collective Shadow Cabinet responsibility over Maastricht. 'After the most pro-EC of all the countries has only narrowly endorsed it, and after the shambles of last week exposed the ERM's intrinsic failings, not to allow that would lack all credibility,' Mr Hain said.

'There must be time for debate and reflection. We should stop acting as if we were about to take office tomorrow.'

Peter Shore and Tony Benn, the former Labour Cabinet ministers, yesterday renewed their argument for a referendum in the wake of the French result. Mr Shore said: 'We must resist at all costs the Maastricht treaty which makes permanently fixed exchange rates and the single European central bank the arbiters of our future.'

However, Jack Cunningham, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, and Harriet Harman, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, both indicated that there would be no change in Labour's approach to the Maastricht treaty.

Mr Blunkett reacted by saying the time was right 'for the Labour Party to change the emphasis of its policy on Europe'.

Britain's future, he said, lay in 'a different kind of Europe, with democracy and accountability at the forefront rather than bringing up the rear'.