Labour in Europe

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What stance should Labour (both north and south of the Border) take on Britain’s future in the European Union?

It has already accepted, since the May election, that there is a case for a referendum. As Andrew Whitaker points out (Perspective, 5 June) it needs to think carefully about its position on the matter, including the criteria on whether it supports a Yes or a No vote.

The Conservatives have a recent history of turmoil over the matter. But exactly 40 years after the first plebiscite on whether the UK should remain a member of the Common Market, as it was then known, it’s worth recalling Labour’s divisions too.

In April 1975 the party, at a special conference, took a resolute stance against staying in. But the then Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and foreign secretary Jim Callaghan, no doubt conscious of their responsibilities in government, recommended a Yes vote.

No doubt they were aware too of the strong opinion poll findings that the majority of the public wanted to remain in Europe. Labour’s travails over the issue left some deep scars for over two decades.

Now it has the supposed luxury of opposition. It still needs to take a considered look at how much Britain pays into the EU and how much it gets back; whether the single market can work more efficiently and more flexibly; whether the powers of the European Parliament can be enhanced in relation to the Commission and the Council of Ministers; it needs to develop a coherent view on the link between immigration and welfare benefits, on regulation and on employment law. The way it handles itself over all this, whoever is its new leader, can help determine whether the broad public is ever likely again to trust it with the reins of government.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court

Glenrothes