Ed Miliband 'backs return of EU powers' but warns PM over strategy

 

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Ed Miliband has said a future Labour government would seek to return some powers from Brussels to Westminster to make the EU "work better for Britain".

The European Union must become more "flexible" and responsibility for areas such as industrial strategy should return to member states, he suggested.

He also told the BBC he backed holding a referendum if further powers were transferred to Brussels in the future.

But he said an in-out referendum now would have "big costs" for the country.

He was speaking ahead of a long-awaited speech in which David Cameron was due to set out his view of the UK's future relationship with the 27-member union. However, the speech was postponed due to the Algerian hostage crisis.

He is expected to call for a renegotiation of the UK's existing relationship and to guarantee a referendum on its outcome after the next election.

Asked about the circumstances in which he would back a referendum, Mr Miliband said his party would not hand over any more powers to Brussels without first consulting the public.

'Real damage'

If Labour were re-elected, he said he would not repeal the coalition government's so-called "referendum lock" - a law passed in 2010 which means a public vote would be triggered if substantial further powers were delegated to the EU.

Start Quote

The debate here is between essentially those who say 'reform Europe to change it to work in our interests and I fear the prime minister's strategy which is leading us towards exit which will cause real damage to our economy”

End Quote Ed Miliband Labour leader

He said "urgent changes" were needed in the EU and Labour would seek to repatriate certain powers - including funding for industry and infrastructure that are part of the EU's regional policy - to ensure the EU "worked better for Britain".

"Regional policy, the way a national government can have an industrial policy, I think there are areas where Britain needs powers back," he told the BBC's Radio 4's Today programme.

But he said Labour would not seek to limit co-operation in other areas, for instance by opting out of the European Arrest warrant.

He did not say during the interview whether he would rule out a referendum in the future to approve any return of powers to the UK from the EU.

'Flexibility'

A group of Conservative MPs called on Wednesday for powers over employment and social legislation to be returned to the UK and safeguards in other areas such as financial regulation but others want to go further and leave the EU altogether.

The fact that the UK would not be joining the single currency in the foreseeable future, including under a Labour government, was evidence that Europe was becoming more "flexible", Mr Miliband argued.

But he insisted the desire for greater flexibility was not the same as having a "looser" relationship and he said uncertainty over the UK's continued membership of the EU would deter foreign investors and reduce the UK's influence, he added.

"The debate here is between essentially those who say 'reform Europe to change it to work in our interests and I fear the prime minister's strategy which is leading us towards exit which will cause real damage to our economy."

He said the prime minister had voted against an in-out referendum in a parliamentary vote in 2011 but had been "dragged" towards a scenario in which such a scenario could happen by a "neuralgic" Conservative Party.

'Walk away'

"Committing now to a in-out referendum has big costs for Britain," he added. "Putting up a big flag 'saying exit, Britain is about to get out - is that a good negotiating strategy? I have to say I think it is a hopeless negotiating strategy.

"The idea that people are more likely to accede to your demands if you say 'you are actually going to walk away and Britain can be sort of written off', I don't believe that is going to help us."

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said Labour's support for the government's "referendum lock" was significant as it committed the party to holding some form of referendum over Europe if, as expected, the eurozone crisis leads to a big change in the EU.

He said it was also noticeable Mr Miliband was not willing to rule out a referendum in other circumstances or even to include a commitment to that effect in his party's next election manifesto if the "pressure really builds".

 

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  • Comment number 323.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 322.

    Labour gave away powers to europe and then invited europe and rest of the world to live here. Resultant population pressures helped create the asset bubble and credit crunch, so then, they gave all our money to the banks. All this happened on Labour's watch!
    They lost a lot of long term committed supporters over all this, people I know who had voted labour for years. Enjoy the wilderness Ed.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 321.

    So What have the Romans ever done for us eh? Making us all agree common human rights and environmental regulations, not allowed to stuff kids up chimneys 24/7, no US GM food and beef pumped full of growth hormones - what's the world coming to when I can work in Germany and get emergency hospital treatment anywhere in Europe if I am on holiday? I want to be free to swim in sewage and work for 50p

  • rate this
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    Comment number 320.

    Milibands father was a highly repected Marxist intellectual, and like the Marxist historian Hobsbawm, drew a distinction between large nation states which have a progressive future and potential and smaller states which tend towards reaction...rather aposite currently..

    Will the polis get a say....like Milibands father, who made a dynamic contribution to UK life..

  • rate this
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    Comment number 319.

    Hilarious Labour scared their EU is wonderful surrender everything, actual practice, may not be popular? Now he is more or less on Cameron's side word for word! Dancing on the head of a pin. YOU had the chance to do what you now say! You promised us that referendum on the transfer of powers of the Lisbon treaty. Gorgon sneaked in the back way to sign the surrender to. Then denied us the vote.

 

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