UK Politics

Labour 'repositioning' itself on Europe - David Miliband

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Media captionDavid Miliband tells the Question Time audience "Labour is repositioning itself over Europe"

Labour's support for a cut in the European Union budget shows the party is "repositioning" itself over Europe, David Miliband has said.

The former foreign secretary said his party had not become "anti-Europe" but was no longer "soft-headed" in equating extra spending with effectiveness.

The Conservatives have accused Labour of hypocrisy after they supported budget rises while in government.

But Mr Miliband said the world had changed since past budget negotiations.

Labour joined with Conservative rebels on Wednesday to defeat the government by urging David Cameron to push for a real-terms cut in the EU's 2014-2020 budget in future negotiations, rather than a real-terms freeze.

Some within Labour ranks have expressed concern with the party's stance on the issue, former minister Margaret Hodge suggesting before the Commons vote that aligning itself with Tory eurosceptics was "outrageous".


Appearing on BBC One's Question Time, Mr Miliband defended Labour's position and said the situation was very different than in 2005 when the last Labour government of which he was a part backed a big rise in the budget for 2007-2013.

"The world has changed since 2005, we have had a global financial crisis. We need to cut our deficit at home and we also need to make sure we cut spending in Europe as well.

He added: "I think there has been a real problem for pro-Europeans like me. We have seemed like we always wanted more spending, we seemed like we were soft-headed about more spending.

"What you have got is a repositioning in the Labour Party - not to go from being pro-Europe to anti-Europe but to take on this idea that to be pro-European you are always for more spending.

"We are not always for more spending. We are for a more effective European Union."

'Sheer opportunism'

Mr Miliband said the government was wrong to focus on total expenditure in Europe rather than where the money was spent since the constituent parts of the EU budget - particularly the level of spending on agriculture - were in "desperate need" of reform.

"We have to get it out of supporting cows, sheep and goats and into supporting skills, universities and innovation," he added.

"The way to get our net contribution down is to reform the EU budget. It is because of the common agricultural policy that we end up having to have a rebate in the first place. Reform the budget and then you can actually get on with a lower net contribution."

But appearing on the same programme, Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng accused Labour of "playing parliamentary games" rather than acting out of principle.

"What happened last night was a spectacle of sheer opportunism on the part of Labour," he said.

"It has nothing to do with Labour's actual position - they actually increased the amount of money they gave to the EU budget.

"The Labour Party is very consistently for the EU. They want close integration, I think. They still have not ruled out joining the euro currency. For them to pretend they were more eurosceptic and willing to cut the budget was purely opportunistic."

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