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

Retail Business Architect

Flexible for the right candidate: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: I have a fa...

Calypso Developer

£500 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Calypso Developer Calypso, J2SE, XML, ...

IT Developer/Analyst

£35000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A market leading financia...

Pricing Manager, Finance, Edinburgh, £250-350p/d

£250 - £350 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is cur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush  

Suddenly everyone goes beserk about Kate Bush, and I’m the one left out...

Archie Bland
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis