I listened carefully to the Today programme interview of the Shadow Foreign Secretary on Saturday morning. It was a typical Today interview with plenty of interruptions and assertions by the interviewer. As a result we got less out of it than we might had it been more forensic.
Labour made clear that they are against an In/Out referendum. They think the threat of one will lose us jobs and investment. They are now unable to rule out one for ever, but they offered no hope of one anytime soon. Their modification of their opposition to one amounted to no more than “You can never say never”, a stupid phrase in politics. I can always say “Never” to legalising murder, for example.
What we needed was an interview which probed the small window of opportunity for Labour to want an In/Out referendum. On what was said it is difficult to believe they would ever seriously consider one. If they fear that the offer of one now is damaging to jobs, why wouldn’t the offer of one in the future be similarly damaging in their view? If we do not need one now, after an intense period of movement to a common European governemnt in so many areas, when might we need one?
I can’t help thinking the Labour’s position on this is unsustainable. They are the party in office that forced through three major Treaties, Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, against the strong opposition of the Conservative party, and without any referendum to ask UK voters if they accepted such a huge transfer of power. Their decision to do this is very unpopular, and makes governing the UK now very difficult as Ministers so often find they do not have the power to do what is needed. The Single European Act and Maastricht were different, as Labour in opposition supported the general principles behind those changes, and the government opted us out of the single currency, and main point of Maastricht. Both main parties were persuaded to offer a referendum should they ever want the UK to take up the main point of Maastricht, joining the Euro. Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon were unacceptable, because the Opposition and much of the nation fundamentally disagreed with the large changes they made to our ability to govern ourselves.
Maybe someone in the weeks ahead will succeed in questioning Labour more intelligently over their stance. How can they refuse the British people a say on this mighty matter? Have they seen the polls on how popular a referendum would be? In what circumstances would they rethink? Are they seriously planning to fight the 2015 election on the wrong side of this issue? Do they agree that the UK cannot join the fiscal, political and banking union the Euro area now needs? Do they not think these changes are large and will have some impact on the UK? How would they wish to guide the UK during an intense period of European centralisation?
On the Today programme the issue was muddled by discussion of referenda on any further transfer of powers. There Labour has accepted the new settlement, that a further transfer would need a vote to approve it before it could happen. That is now a relatively minor matter compared to the large issue of do we want to stay in what we have got? How does Labour plan to get the nation to love the huge changes to our constitution that Nice,Amsterdam and Lisbon inflicted? Why didn’t they bother to explain them and persuade us at the time they rammed them through the Commons?