Labour has performed a dramatic U-turn on its opposition to an in/out referendum on EU membership, the party’s acting leader has said, warning that the UK would just be a “small country” outside the EU.
Acting leader Harriet Harman said her party would now support David Cameron’s planned referendum bill, clearing a path for a UK-wide ballot by the end of 2017.
It marks an about-turn for the party, which had rejected the idea under Ed Miliband’s leadership during the general election campaign.
Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think that we have got the same concerns that you should contribute into the benefits system before you take out. We have got additional concerns about making sure there is not underpayment of the minimum wage and that there is a living wage so that people don’t feel undercut in their workplace in terms of pay.”
Stressing the economic and political importance of remaining within the EU, she said: “If we were outside of Europe we would be a small country, outside of those big, continental building blocks around the globe.”
She added: “It is not inconsistent to say that our future is better in Europe than outside of Europe, but we want to see Europe change not only for this country but because all around Europe they have got to address the question of people feeling that Europe is too centralised, insufficiently accountable and insufficiently in touch.
“So it’s perfectly possible to want to remain in a situation but to want it to change.”
The announcement follows a leak to a newspaper about the Bank of England’s project to assess the economic risks to Britain if the country votes to leave the EU.
Last week Mr Cameron, who met European counterparts for the first time since his general election victory, admitted he was “not met with a wall of love” as he began diplomatic negotiations aimed at securing changes to the UK’s relationship with Brussels.
At a summit in the Latvian capital Riga he conceded that securing a deal would take “patience and tenacity” and refused to ruled out campaigning for Britain to leave the EU if his renegotiation efforts failed.
Labour said it also supported efforts to reform the union, including freedom of movement rules.
A number of large UK employers, including Deutsche Bank and Airbus, have confirmed they are reviewing the consequences of a Brexit for their businesses.
Asked what would prevent him from voting for an EU exit, Conservative former defence secretary Liam Fox told Murnaghan on Sky News: “I want us to get as close as we can to the concept of the common market we joined.
“I think people want us to have an economic relationship with our European partners, they understand the advantages in trade, for example, but they don’t want interference in other areas of national life.
“They don’t want a common foreign policy, they don’t want a common security policy, we need to get back from some of these things.”
Mr Fox said he found it “bizarre” people are already saying how they will vote before the negotiations have taken place, noting Mr Cameron must be given time to go through the necessary processes.
He said he would like to see Britain gain control of its borders for EU and non-EU migrants, explaining: “It’s not just about migration nor is it just about the relationship with the City of London.
“It’s a question of sovereignty, it’s a question of are the laws we make in Britain being ultimately determined in our own courts and are our own laws going to be sovereign.”