Ed Miliband rejects 'huge gamble' of in/out referendum

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Media caption,

Ed Miliband said Tory MPs were cheering "because they want to vote no" in a referendum

Ed Miliband has said he does not support a referendum on EU membership, saying it is a "huge gamble" that will cause years of uncertainty.

The Labour leader said David Cameron had "given in" to those who wanted to quit the EU and could not answer "basic questions" about how he would vote.

But the prime minister said his "clear plan" was backed by the public and was "right for business and the economy".

"I don't want Britain to leave the EU... but to reform the EU," he said.

The clash, at Prime Minister's Questions, came after Mr Cameron said the Conservatives would seek to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU if they won the next election and hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EU on new terms or leave.

The poll would be held by the end of 2017 at the latest, he stated in a speech in London.

'Basic question'

In the Commons, the Labour leader said Mr Cameron had voted against holding an in/out referendum as recently as 2011 and had only changed his mind because he was "frightened" of his backbenchers and had "given into" his party.

Media caption,

Ed Miliband said Tory MPs were cheering "because they want to vote no" in a referendum

"The only thing that has changed is not the situation in Europe but the situation in the Tory party. He has not been driven to it by the national interest but been dragged to it by his party," he told MPs.

Mr Miliband said the prime minister was unable to say which way he would vote if he did not get the new settlement he wanted. "He cannot ask the most basic question of all. Whether he is for yes or whether he is for no?"

Labour has, in the past, said it was the wrong time for such a poll but declined to rule out an in/out referendum at some point in the future. But pressed on the issue, the opposition leader said "my position is no - we don't want an in/out referendum".

Such a move would, he added, put "Britain through years of uncertainty and take a huge gamble with the economy".

Mr Cameron, cheered by his MPs throughout the exchanges, said he had set out a "very clear approach" of a renegotiation followed by a referendum and challenged Labour to say what they would do.

"His whole argument about there being uncertainty is fatally undermined by the fact that he cannot answer whether he wants a referendum or not," he argued. "He needs to go away, get a policy, come back and tell us what it is.

"Our approach is what the British people want. It is right for business, right for the economy and we will fight for it in the years ahead."

The BBC's political correspondent Robin Brant said Labour aides were insisting the party's position had not changed and that as they would do "nothing to damage" the economy, the opposition "did not support a referendum now".

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said it was a "real shock" that Labour had appeared to rule out a referendum.

Senior Labour MP Keith Vaz, a former Europe minister, said the British people should be given a say as "soon as possible" but former prime minister Tony Blair said a referendum was "not necessary" and effectively put the question of EU exit "on the agenda".