Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman has confirmed the party will now support an EU referendum by the end of 2017. She told the Sunday Times the reverse in position came after Labour “reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps” during the election.
David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate a “better deal” for the UK and hold an “in/out” referendum by the end of 2017. The call for a vote on a possible EU exit has long been a key part of UKIP’s policy manifesto and now Harman is on board, too, with one important difference. She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the party would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU on the basis that: “Whether we are in the European Union or not is a huge, important, constitutional, political, economic decision.”
The Conservatives were bringing forward a bill to allow the referendum to happen and Ms Harman admitted Labour “wouldn’t succeed” in stopping it, saying: “There just does not seem to be the public appetite for us to man the barricades against a referendum that appears inevitably going to happen. We will vote for the bill and then get into the big questions for and against Europe.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage immediately responded to the change in Labour’s position by pointing out the Labour Party has been dragged, unwillingly, to accept the inevitabilty of an In/Out EU referendum in the next two years. He said:
“Harman and Benn’s position shows quite how little they have learned from their defeat and how much more they have to learn about the European Union debate in the UK.
“They grudgingly accept that it is the will of the British people to have a say on their future, but they make it clear that they will campaign for an In, whatever the result of Mr Cameron’s negotiations. So in reality this isn’t a conversion to democracy and the facts of the European argument, merely an acceptance of the inevitable.
“Claims that the EU has kept the peace for 70 years, and that Britain would be in some way barred from trade with the EU nations rebels against all evidence. But they have closed their minds and hearts to evidence.”
Labour’s decision to support the referendum bill, which is expected to be in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech, means it should be able to speed through Parliament without serious delays.
A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, carried out May 21-22, found 44 percent of the 1,532 people surveyed favoured staying in the EU, while 36 percent would vote to leave.