British EU vote unlikely before 2020 if Labour wins power, Miliband says

A future Labour government would only hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union before 2020 if more powers were transferred to Brussels, party leader Ed Miliband will say Wednesday.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to reach a new settlement with the EU before holding an in/out referendum by the end of 2017, provided he wins the May 2015 election.

But Miliband’s calibrated referendum pledge means that if the opposition Labour wins power in 2015, or if it has to share power with the Liberal Democrats, there would be little prospect of a vote on Britain’s EU membership this decade.

“I am announcing that the next Labour government will legislate for a new lock: there would be no transfer of powers from the UK to the EU without a referendum on our continued membership of the EU,” Miliband wrote in the Financial Times.

“There are no current proposals – from either the EU or any member state – for a further transfer of powers from Britain,” he said. “It is unlikely there will be any such proposals in the next parliament.”

By offering the prospect of a distant referendum, Miliband is trying to weaken Cameron’s charge that Labour is afraid of giving British voters the chance to have their say on Europe and also to underscore the risks of Cameron’s strategy which some investors fear could allow Britain to slip out of the EU.

Miliband, whose party currently leads in opinion polls, said Cameron’s “arbitrary” timetable for an EU vote would distract from dealing with Britain’s economic challenges and that Cameron had no support in European capitals for his renegotiation.

Cameron, who is under pressure from euroskeptics in his Conservative party and the anti-EU UK Independence Party, says Britain can reshape its EU ties, though he has so far garnered only limited backing for his plans among fellow leaders.

Miliband said Cameron’s Conservative party’s “damaging obsession” with Europe was spooking businesses while the Labour party wanted to work for reform from within the 28-member bloc.

“Britain’s future lies in the EU,” Miliband said.