Unite union tell UK Labour to offer EU referendum

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The British trade union Unite voted yesterday to ask the Labour Party to offer a referendum on Britain's continued membership in the European Union as part of its election promises, and said failing to do so would make Labour's electoral success a "hostage to fortune". The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, has ruled out such a move as "silly".

Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey said of the motion passed by the union: "It calls on Labour not to box itself in on the referendum question. This issue has bedevilled British politics for decades. For much of that time it has been the Tories who have had to deal with divisions in their ranks over Europe. But the next general election will be different. Both UKIP and the Tories will be offering a referendum on the issue of Britain's membership."

McCluskey accused Labour of being in a position where "ducking this question is seen as part of Labour's commitment to business".

McCluskey also said: "We do not seek a referendum to take Britain out of the EU. We seek a referendum rethink in order to help get Labour into power here in Britain. Without such a pledge our party will stand exposed. UKIP will be strengthened in some key constituencies. The Tories will hypocritically charge Labour with being anti-democratic."

Balls responded on the BBC programme Newsnight: "That would be a silly thing for us to say. We made a very clear commitment: if there is any proposal in the next parliament for a transfer of powers to Brussels [the EU] we will have an in/out referendum.

"We are not proposing a referendum now because we think to spend two or three years blighting investment and undermining our economy on the prospect of a referendum which David Cameron says he is going to have after he gets an unknown package of reforms would be bad for jobs and investment.

"If Len McCluskey is supporting the David Cameron position, I disagree with Len McCluskey."

At Prime Minister's Questions, Conservatives had fun at the expense of Labour leader Ed Miliband and the perceived division in Labour ranks over Europe. Conservative MP Sir Tony Baldry joked: "In the ’83 general election, a 13-year-old boy delivered leaflets around my constituency pledging that [then-Labour MP] Michael Foot would take Labour out of the European Union. Does my right hon[ourable] Friend find it strange that that same boy, now leader of the Labour party, is not willing either to support the renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership of the European Union or to pledge to trust the people of Britain in a referendum on our membership of the European Union?"

Ahead of the 2015 general election, the parties remain divided on Europe. David Cameron has pledged the Conservatives will hold a referendum in 2017 after a renegotiation of treaties. The Liberal Democrats recently faced a challenge to their policy on Europe with a number of senior party members calling for a referendum on membership — this push to change course was defeated and the party remains committed to a policy of not holding a referendum unless further British sovereignty is transferred to the EU.