Ed Miliband is widely considered to be “dithering” on the EU Referendum question, although the assumption is that he’ll be forced to accept that the British people must be granted a say sooner or later. But if the behaviour of Labour MPs in the Commons today is anything to go by, his conversion will most certainly come later.
James Wharton’s EU Referendum Bill, which seeks to ensure that a referendum would be called by the 31st December 2017 at the latest, and which was debated today in the Commons, is a Private Members Bill. It will only receive limited time in the Commons for debate, so if Labour MPs can prevaricate long enough to delay any voting, it will simply run out of time.
And that’s exactly what they tried to do today. Adam Afriyie, speaking in defence of his amendment, which would see the referendum brought forward to 2015, made no bones about chastising them, saying
“I am conscious that the Opposition want to talk out the Bill”.
After a point of order protest by Huw Irranca-Davis, the Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing responded thusly:
“The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order and that nobody is talking out anything in this Chamber—there is no such action. The only words that will be allowed in the Chamber today are those entirely in order with proceedings.
A technicality. There were long discussions on the constitutional status of Gibraltar, on whether 16 year olds should have the right to vote, and the populations of British overseas territories.
Labour MPs has also tabled vast numbers of amendments to the Bill. Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, tabled an astonishing 86 amendments to a Bill that’s only one page long, some of which were directly contradictory of each other. He even included an amendment which would turn the referendum into a question on whether Britain should join the single currency.
Labour MPs even resorted to walking through the voting lobbies slowly, simply to hold up proceedings.
Exasperated, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh resorted to asking
“Does the Labour party accept the principle that there should be a referendum at all?”
And the reply from Labour’s William Bain?
“The answer remains the same as on Second Reading: we do not believe that now is the right time to focus on this kind of agenda.”
This was the line taken by Miliband himself, who told reporters
“I think what we see today is the Conservative party talking to itself about Europe when actually what they should be doing is talking to the country about the most important issue that people are facing, which is the cost of living crisis.”
Mr Miliband may be intellectually intelligent, but he has no finesse as a politician. The comment was a ham-fisted attempt to steer proceedings back on to his chosen territory. And although Labour may be just about topping the polls (although by no means with a lead large enough to guarantee them a win at the next election), the public will surely not fall for his sloppy rhetoric.
Not least because membership of the European Union hugely contributes to our cost of living crisis. VAT, currently set at 20% and applied to almost everything, from some foods, to petrol, to services, is an EU mandated tax. An influx of over 1,000,000 immigrants thanks to the EUs Open Borders policy has driven up housing costs and made it harder for young and low-skilled workers to find jobs. EU energy policy has driven up the price of energy, which Miliband now wants to fix. Does he want the lights to go out?
The conclusion is unavoidable: Labour have no interest in allowing the people of Britain a say on EU membership.