Andy Burnham has demanded the government hold the EU referendum in 2016, a year earlier than planned. In an interview with The Observer the Labour leadership frontrunner admitted he told Ed Miliband to support the referendum, but only because he wanted to confirm the UKs membership of the EU.
Mr Burnham said the critical issue facing the country was immigration. He said he wanted to end the right of EU nationals to come to the UK to claim benefits, but did not want to restrict free movment more generally.
In the interview he said: “The country has voted now for a European referendum and under my leadership the Labour party will not be a grudging presence on that stage. We will now embrace it. It should be brought forward to 2016.
“It should be in the Queen’s speech that it should be in 2016, and the message I would send to Cameron is that I would offer support to deliver it in 2016. It is not going to be in anybody’s interest for this to rumble on through this parliament.
“We have to get to it. We have to do it, embrace the argument. That is the most fundamental problem facing British business right now.”
He went on: “If Cameron doesn’t deliver legislative change in terms of abuse of the rules of free movement by agencies and the effect on people with jobs here, it won’t be good enough. It really won’t be good enough.
“I am passionately pro-European. I cannot see how it could possibly be in the interest of this country to come out of the European Union. This is the challenge that prime minister has set himself and he has to deliver.”
Senior figures in both the Labour Party and the Conservatives are calling for small changes to free movement across the EU. However, Brussels is firmly opposed to the plan, which requires a treaty change to enact.
It is more likely that a temporary ban on benefit tourism will be offered in an attempt to placate British voters ahead of the referendum. Britain is likely to go to the polls in 2017, after an attempt by David Cameron to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU.