Labour will today call for greater cooperation on defence and security by European Union countries to combat the growing threat posed by Russia.
Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe Minister, will open a new front in the domestic debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU by arguing that it is vital that the 28-nation bloc speaks with one voice against the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He will accuse David Cameron of playing into Russia’s hands by raising the prospect of Britain leaving the EU. A Labour government would support greater cooperation with EU members on defence in areas such as training and procurement but would not back the EU army proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President.
Unlike the Conservatives, Labour is not promising an in/out EU referendum if it wins power in May. Senior Labour figures hope that Russia’s threat to Eastern European nations can boost public support for the party’s pro-European stance.
Speaking at a Fabian Society conference in London, Mr McFadden will claim that Russia’s aggression means that Britain’s Eurosceptics are being “left behind” by events. He will say: “If the EU were to splinter or split, no one would be more pleased than President Putin.”
The Labour frontbencher will add: “It is utterly incoherent for our Prime Minister to call for tougher European action against President Putin in one breath and then threaten to leave the EU in the next. Security is the unspoken dimension of this European debate. This is no time for democratic nations to consider breaking from their allies.”
Arguing that the security dimension of EU membership is becoming much more important, he will say: “Britain‘s debate about its future relationship with the EU risks almost entirely ignoring the issue of our collective security. This is a mistake we can no longer afford.”
He will say this is a time when Britain and Europe must stick together in the face of the threat from Moscow. “Instead, we have a prime minister whose approach to Europe has become characterised by posture, pandering and panic in the face of his own backbenchers and Ukip,” he will claim.
“Of course our position in the EU is about trade and jobs and inward investment. But the geopolitical situation we face shows us it is about values too. Our debate has become too narrow in its focus. It has to consider the common bonds of democracy, rule of law and respect for borders before we make a move that would weaken us and weaken our neighbours."
Mr Fadden will argue: “Whenever the West has been tested in the past, it has looked to Britain. Today, such is the confusion and incoherence of the British Government’s position, some are no longer looking.”
At the weekend, Mr Juncker told Germany’s Welt Am Sonntag newspaper that “a common army among the Europeans would convey Russia hat we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.” The British Government responded by saying that there is “no prospect” of the UK agreeing to the creation of an EU army.
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