I am looking forward to a referendum on the European Union and I am very proud that it is ever more likely that Labour will be the party to offer it. Last week our shadow Chancellor signalled he is ready to support an EU referendum, and yesterday the appointment of Jon Cruddas as head of the Labour policy review brought that a step closer. You may remember that Jon backed the Tory backbenchers call for a referendum on the EU last October. I myself have been calling for a referendum on Europe now for some time, and wrote a fairly critical article of Ed Miliband back in October (see here) when he refused to support calls for one.
The reasons for this are very simple. The UK public overwhelmingly want that referendum. Every major polling company has recorded polls in favour of a referendum throughout the last year. In addition, in many of those polls a greater number of Labour voters say they want the UK to have a reduced involvement in Europe, than say the opposite. Only one third of Labour voters are happy with the level of powers we have repatriated to the EU. Whilst there is little doubt that the powers we have given to Europe are far too much, this is not the same thing as saying that we want out of the EU. That vote, if and when it ever happens, will probably (almost certainly) result in the UK public voting to remain part of the EU. All the great referenda of our age shows that the appetite for change declines the closer polling day draws near.
The election of François Hollande will do much to calm antagonism towards the EU within the Labour Party. For this reason, now is a better time that ever to commit to a referendum. The UK voters have not had their chance to state their views on Europe for 38 years now, and considering the extensive erosion of powers to Europe that is a travesty of democracy. There are three safeguards I would seek before I would be happy for the UK to commit to the EU in its present format.
1. The most worrying piece of legislation that stood a chance of becoming UK law was the agreement that Cameron 'vetoed' in December. It would have legally limited budget spending to a maximum of 3% spending deficit. It would also have given the EU the right to veto nation states' budgets if it didn't like them. Legally enshrining austerity at an EU level was a bridge too far for many socialists.
2. So too, further expansion of the EU especially to include Turkey would be a disaster for British manufacturing. The labour flexibility, engineering expertise and agricultural base would mean that Turkey would be a net exporter to the UK in goods and people. That, is not in our interest.
3. In addition, the Common Fisheries Policy is in dire need of reform. It is particularly wrong that we in the EU discard £1bn of fish every parliament back into the sea especially when our children are suffering protein poverty.
All things considered, I'll vote to remain in the EU, but we deserve our say.