Europe: What will Labour do?

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 23 January 2013 in News
The prime minister's speech this morning has defined what he wants to see in Europe, so what will Labour do now on the EU?

Today the prime minister made his case for the future of Britain’s position in Europe: change, or Britain will leave. The PM spoke of five key reforms that he wanted to see inside the supranational body, which were: competitiveness, flexibility, reciprocal power flow between member states and the EU, democratic accountability, and fairness.

What we do now know is Miliband’s position on the European referendum. The leader of the opposition said: “My position is no – we don’t want an in/out referendum,” causing some of his own eurosceptic backbenchers to gasp.

This is where it could get interesting: there is a possibility – albeit slim – that some Labour MPs could fracture from party policy should it be committed to in manifesto ink. If the Labour leadership attempts to unite the party behind a no referendum agenda, it could cause an embarrassing fracture for Miliband and give real force to the eurosceptic movement across the House.

However, most Labour MPs see the PM’s speech today as a way of pleasing his own backbenchers, as opposed to acting in the country’s best interest.

Labour MP, Emma Reynolds today told Total Politics exactly that: “The PM has made this speech (on Europe) at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. His main motivation is to placate his backbenchers. We want reform in Europe but you achieve that not by threatening to walk out but by working together with European partners.  

“Many leading British business people warned the prime minister that promising a referendum on a hypothetical negotiation, on an uncertain outcome at some point in the future will put at risk inward investment. Unfortunately, the PM has been too weak to follow their advice and instead has followed rather than led his party.”

For Labour, things remain obscure. Last week, Ed Miliband spoke about how Europe needed to move away from austerity to jobs, and, in doing so, moved his party into an isolated position on European economics. What is apparent from today is that the situation has not really changed, from both the leader of the opposition, and cabinet members – specifically due to Caroline Flint’s excellent dodging of the “are you in favour of a referendum on Europe?” question on the Daily Politics programme.

Labour are still isolated because collectively they still do not have a policy on the European debate. Flint’s performance prompted speculation from some commentators to question whether the topic had even been discussed in shadow cabinet meetings.

What remains to be seen is an official response from the party on the matter. And because of these internal disagreements on the continental debate, we could see a shift in direction of the opposition’s stance on the matter – regardless of Miliband’s current personal position.

This must be a most interesting time for 26 countries scattered across the continent, as if Britain can renegotiate, maybe they can too? That, however – like many things in our own party politics – has yet to become clear.

Tags: Conservative Party, EU, European Union, Labour

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