Ed Miliband has sent an angry letter to David Cameron this afternoon, demanding that he ‘set out in detail a reform agenda for the EU and a strategy for building the alliances needed to deliver it’.
Now, David Cameron is quite used to receiving angry letters about Europe, but mostly they come from members of his own party rather than the leader of the Opposition. But because Ed Miliband has decided that his party’s best business policy is actually the responsibility of his Shadow Foreign Office team, he wants to get in on the angry letter-writing act too. This letter is supposed to highlight that pro-business policy, which is Labour’s opposition to an EU referendum, as well as needling Cameron a bit about whether he really holds enough influence in Europe.
Miliband also knows that for the sake of party unity, Cameron will want to be as vague as possible for as long as possible about what the detail of his reform agenda is, because it will never satisfy a chunk of his backbenchers.
But at some point after the general election, if Cameron remains in Number 10, those backbenchers will start demanding details. He would be wise to start building alliances with MPs of the Fresh Start mindset who could lend vocal support to the plans he does set out, as well as with the European leaders he needs to bring those plans to fruition.
As for whether this letter will cause any trouble in Downing Street at all, well Cameron could respond that the Conservatives are giving voters the choice they want on the EU referendum, and that it is not true that all businesses are opposed to the vote. Some, like the British Chambers of Commerce, just want it early, while Business for Britain is very keen indeed to show that there are many business people who support the referendum too.
Dear Prime Minister,
Great businesses across Britain need certainty to plan ahead, knowing that the markets on which they depend will still be open to them in the years ahead and that the inward investment that drives growth will continue to flow.
But your government is causing a great deal of uncertainty.
More than two years have passed since you promised to set out in detail your plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe.
But you have still not given any more than the broadest of hints what reforms you want, how you expect to achieve them, or what people would be voting on in a referendum for which for you have set an arbitrary deadline of 2017.
You will not even state whether you would still be advocating the UK remaining in Europe.
I am writing today to urge you to make good on your commitment to set out in detail a reform agenda for the EU and a strategy for building the alliances needed to deliver it.
You should not expect to get through the coming election without letting businesses and voters know the details of a plan which risks jobs, exports, and inward investment.
You should not go through this election campaign without saying which side you would be on in a referendum.
Labour has set out a set of ambitious and achievable reforms to make Europe work better for Britain.
We would not allow any more transfer of power from Britain to Brussels without the explicit consent of the British people in an in/out referendum.
But I am not going to tie a Labour government into an arbitrary timetable for an all-consuming debate about Britain exiting the EU, which would create huge instability for British businesses and be against our national interest.
I look forward to you setting out your reply.