Labour's fault lines widen on the EU

The media had years of fun during the 1990s running stories about Conservative splits over the EU and still long for the opportunity to reach for their favourite old record and give it one more spin.

George Eustice: 'Ed Miliband clings to the old Blairite line on Europe, as does Douglas Alexander, but both know it is out of date.'
George Eustice: 'Ed Miliband clings to the old Blairite line on Europe, as does Douglas Alexander, but both know it is out of date.'

The reality is that, over the past ten years, sentiment has shifted sharply within the Conservative Party and there is now considerable unity around a clear proposition: that we should stay in the EU but under renegotiated terms, a position supported by the Prime Minister.

This week saw further signs of movement within the Labour Party on the issue as it struggles to avoid ending up on the wrong side of history. There has always been a core of around 30 Labour MPs who believe Britain should leave the EU altogether and the same number again who are sceptical about aspects of the EU.

Ten years ago, these Labour rebels were instrumental in derailing Tony Blair's hopes of joining the euro. For New Labour, an acceptance of all things European was simply an unthinking article of faith. Opposition to the EU was associated with Michael Foot so, the argument went, New Labour needed to be the opposite. But it was never crafted into a coherent position and instead remained just a 'line to take'.

At the end of last year, Douglas Alexander started to recalibrate their position by opening the door to a renegotiation of Britain's EU membership for the first time. Earlier this year, Labour toyed with the idea of offering an in-out referendum and this week it said it thought the EU budget should be cut in real terms, a position that has left it completely isolated within its own group in the European Parliament.

Ed Miliband instinctively clings to the old Blairite line, as does his foreign affairs spokesman Alexander, but both know it is out of date. Others in the inner circle have been pushing for a new approach including Ed Balls, Chris Leslie and the affable but wily Jon Cruddas who is heading Labour's policy review. There are still major inconsistencies in Labour's position but the eurosceptics seem to have gained the upper hand for now.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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