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By Peter Hoskin
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Sometimes it feels as
through the Channel has narrowed, and Continental Europe has crept all the way
to Westminster. This is one of those times. With David Cameron set to enter EU
Budget negotiations, ahead of a speech on Britain’s relationship with Europe,
and after UKIP’s prominent showing in the elections last week, Brussels looms
large over our politics.

And now Ed Miliband has decided
to have his say, too. The Labour leader is interviewed by Patrick Hennessy and
Matthew d’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph — and basically all he talks about is
Europe.

Mr Miliband is obviously
keen to make life difficult for his Conservative counterpart, but not
necessarily by driving wedge between the latter and Tory backbenchers. The coalition he appears more eager to build is
not between Labour and the Eurosceptic right, but between Labour and pro-EU businesses. “It's partly probably jockeying for a
post-Cameron world,” he says of that recent
story
about Michael Gove wanting us out, “but I think the business
community is genuinely very worried.”


But,
that said, Mr Miliband does also indulge in a bit of Euro-scepticism. The
article says that a speech he is set to deliver tomorrow will accept that “Euro-sceptics
must not be dismissed as wild-eyed extremists, but must be listened to because
some of their arguments are right.” He also talks about reforming the
EU, including by having “maximum transitional controls” on immigration
from the accession countries such as Poland.

If this
sounds to you like the Labour leader having his cake and eating it too, then
you’re probably right. But even that’s suggestive of how Labour are starting to
accept the Euro-sceptic realities of British society. As Matthew d’Ancona puts
it in his
column
about the interview:

“No Labour leader in recent decades could
conceivably have speculated so openly about ‘people’s biggest beef’ with
Europe: not even Miliband’s one-time mentor, Gordon Brown, at his most
Euro-realist.”

Even a
quick shuffle through this morning’s polls suggests that Mr Miliband is right to
do this. Just to pick two findings from the deck: 56 per cent of people would vote
for us to leave the EU
, and 66 per cent think the UK’s contributions to the
EU budget should
be cut
.

But the
question is, will people buy Miliband’s line on Europe? After all, there is, at
the moment, a striking omission: the promise of any referendum on the EU. As
the interview puts it, “”Neither will he pledge a referendum on the issue, for
now at least.”  

This
seems rather a let-off for David Cameron. No doubt Mr Miliband has qualms about
scaring pro-EU sorts away from his party, and might not feel that he has to
reach out to the UKIP vote. But if he were to offer a referendum, it’s likely
that the Prime Minister would have to follow suit or face the wrath of his
backbenchers. And, what's more, history contains examples of pro-EU parties offering an
in/out referendum on democratic grounds: the Lib Dems did just that a few years
ago.

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