LABOUR has claimed that the UK is “sleepwalking” towards exit from the European Union because of Tory internal politics.
In a speech yesterday, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander outlined his party’s vision for Europe, which he insisted did not need a referendum, with reform instead achieved through negotiation with other member states.
Mr Alexander also claimed Prime Minister David Cameron was “too weak” to stop Tory Eurosceptics forcing him into an in/out referendum which they hope will end with British withdrawal.
Speaking to foreign affairs think-tank Chatham House, Mr Alexander warned of the risk that Mr Cameron will fail to achieve the renegotiation of Britain’s membership and will end up “stumbling” into withdrawal. Labour believes that promising an in/out referendum now is not in the national interest, as it would lead to years of uncertainty for business.
Mr Alexander argued that the timing of Mr Cameron’s stance on Europe was driven not by the national interest but by his need to appease Eurosceptics.
He said: “David Cameron’s party won’t let him address the undoubted need for change in the EU in a sensible way.
“We have a Prime Minister who simply cannot reconcile the demands of his party with the needs of the country.
“The gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum our European partners can accept remains unbridgeable.
“For many in his party, getting David Cameron to commit now to an in/out referendum is not about securing consent. It is about securing exit. And we will have a British Prime Minister sleepwalking towards exit, knowing he is letting down the national interest, but too weak to do anything about it.”
Mr Alexander said that Britain’s national interests in the current circumstances lie in reform of the EU, rather than exit. On an in/out referendum, he said Labour was “absolutely clear that to announce one will not serve Britain’s national interest”.