Ed Miliband is right to rule out a 2017 referendum
on EU membership, but for all the wrong reasons

Miliband joined the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in adopting a policy on Europe determined by party-political advantage

Share

It is hard to be confident that the leaders of the three main parties are shaping policy towards the European Union in the national interest. David Cameron, having resisted a referendum on our membership of the EU on the grounds that it would cause uncertainty, created precisely that uncertainty 15 months ago when he promised precisely that referendum. He looks like a temporising leader in the mould of Harold Wilson, seeking – sometimes quite nimbly – to keep a divided party together. Fearful of his assertively Eurosceptic backbenchers and by the advancing purple tide of Ukip outside the House of Commons, he now promises a referendum by 2017, on what we know not, but whatever it might be, he intends to campaign for a Yes vote to keep us in the EU.

Then, last month, Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to debate the European question face to face. After a day’s hesitation, the leader of the third most popular party agreed to a debate with the leader of the fourth most popular party, and those democratic expositions will take place on the radio on 26 March and on television on 2 April. Political debates that attract large audiences are plainly a good thing, even if the leaders of the first and second parties refuse to take part in them, and there is something in Mr Clegg’s argument that to have the “party of in” take on the “party of out” might achieve clarity.

Even so, Mr Clegg is the leader of a party that has lost more than half of its support by going into coalition and who has little to lose. He seems desperate to differentiate his party from his coalition partners, and to win over the minority of the electorate who are passionately pro-EU.

Finally, on Wednesday, Ed Miliband joined the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in adopting a policy on Europe determined by party-political advantage. Where Mr Cameron is spooked by sceptics, and Mr Clegg fears electoral eclipse, Mr Miliband’s concern is that Labour will once again fight a general election without any significant business support. His plan to freeze energy prices alarmed investors and prompted wider worries about whether the Labour leader understands wealth creation.

But Mr Miliband saw an opportunity to win back some ground by opposing an EU referendum in the next parliament. He sought, not quite successfully, to balance this message with support for the principle of a referendum if other EU members seek to transfer further powers to Brussels – which he admitted was “unlikely”. He seems to have calculated that business support is more important than “letting people have their say”, and was rewarded with the blessing of the CBI.

Mr Miliband has, at least, ended up in roughly the right place. The Prime Minister’s promise of a vote is a foolish one. Although the European treaties will have to be rewritten one day, the end of 2017 is an artificial deadline and the prospect of all 27 other members of the Union agreeing to anything that would remotely satisfy the majority of Mr Cameron’s party is nil. Fortunately, the three leaders of the main parties in the House of Commons are committed in their different ways to our membership of the EU. But is this really the way to run European policy – with all three possible leaders of the next government frightened of their own shadows?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
The rocketing cost of remarking scripts coupled with the squeeze on school budgets has led to some schools charging parents for the cost of requesting exam boards to review marks, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Liverpool heard.  

A teaching crisis we can’t afford

Louise Scodie
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat