Nigel Farage talks to journalists during European election campaigning on May 9, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage needs Miliband to promise an EU referendum - but he won't

The Labour leader won't U-turn if Ukip win the European elections. 

In his interview on Today this morning, Nigel Farage again expressed his belief that Ed Miliband would be forced to guarantee an in/out EU referendum if Ukip wins the European elections. To date, Miliband has said that a Labour government would only hold a referendum in the event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels, a condition that he believes is unlikely to be met. The result is that the Tories are able to boast that the only way to guarantee an in/out vote on EU membership is to vote Conservative in 2015, an attack line that Farage recognises has the potential to do increasing damage to Ukip. Given the likelihood that Labour will be the largest party after the general election (not least thanks to the divided right), Farage needs Miliband to U-turn if he is to avoid losing EU withdrawalists to the Tories. 

But as I've reported before, there is no prospect of him doing so. A senior Labour source told me: "The idea that Labour will change position is as unfeasible and ill-thought out as everything else Farage says." He pointed out that both the shadow cabinet and the PLP (with the exception of mavericks such as Kate Hoey) were "united" behind Miliband's stance and said a future Labour government would not allow itself to be "paralysed" by an arbitrary referendum. Instead, it would promote "the national interest" by only holding a vote in "the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers" and focusing on tackling the living standards crisis. 

While Farage managed to force Cameron to promise a referendum against his wishes, there is no chance of him enjoying a similar success with Miliband. Unlike the PM, the Labour leader does not lurch, he does not U-turn. When a stance is adopted, typically in the form of a detailed speech, it is maintained. With Labour far more united than the Tories on Europe (a reversal of the situation in 1975), there is also no prospect of Miliband coming under comparable internal pressure to Cameron. 

Finally, since Miliband rightly believes that he has a good chance of becoming prime minister, he is not prepared to allow the opening years of his premiership to be dominated by a referendum that he could struggle to win (an outcome that would likely force his resignation). 

If Ukip do win tomorrow, the Labour leader will speak again about the need to restore trust in politics and to address the root causes of the party's support. What he will not do is promise an EU referendum that is neither in his interests nor those of the country. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The promises of Brexit can't be kept. You can only decide which bits to betray

Vote Leave's great success was in presenting a menu of contradictory options as if they could all be secured. 

If Britain leaves the European Union but retains its membership of the single market and the customs union, has it really left? Barry Gardiner doesn’t think so. Labour’s shadow trade secretary, writing for the Guardian, argues that to satisfy those who voted Leave, Britain must regain control of its own borders – forcing it out of the single market in order to lose free movement rights – and its own laws, forcing it out of both the customs union and single market to avoid regulatory harmonisation.

Jeremy Corbyn has argued that single market membership and EU membership are one and the same, as has Caroline Flint. They have kept the options open on the customs union. Are they right?

As I wrote yesterday, it’s hard to explain what drove Britain’s Brexit vote without conceding that objections to the rules of the single market played a significant role. Gardiner is undoubtedly right to say that two of the biggest drivers of the vote were control over borders and laws, both of which cannot be achieved while remaining within the single market. Neither can the third biggest driver, which was more money for public services in general and the NHS in particular – that £350m a week. Because if the United Kingdom retains its single market membership, it will continue to “send money to Brussels”.

There’s a “but” coming, though, and it’s a big one. The first problem is that while the majority of people who voted to leave did so for reasons that cannot be fulfilled if we remain in the single market, those votes weren’t enough to take Britain out of the European Union. Leave only triumphed because it also secured the votes of people who thought it would take the country out of the political project but would retain a Norway-style arrangement.

The second is that those three big mandates cannot be reconciled with each other. If the United Kingdom leaves the single market and the customs union, then the promise of more money for the NHS will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to deliver, at least not in the way that people envisaged. (When people said they wanted £350m extra in the NHS, they didn’t mean “in order to pay for drugs that are more expensive, to recoup the cost of our new regulatory regime and to plug the recruitment gap left by EU citizens with high-priced locums”. They meant that the NHS would do everything it does now and more, not run to stand still.)

The great success of Vote Leave was in presenting a whole menu of contradictory options as if they could be served on one dish. But you cannot have the Extra Hot and the Lemon & Herb on the same piece of chicken. You have to choose. The big failure of the political class has been not to advocate for one of those options over the other. (Theresa May has effectively been running on a ticket of “Extra Hot, Lemon & Herb, and the French will pay for it”.)

You cannot have a Brexit that unlocks trade deals with India and the rest of the BRICS (five major emerging national economies) and reduce the uncontrolled flow of people from elsewhere around the world to the UK. You can’t have a more generously-funded public realm and pursue a Brexit that makes everyone poorer. You have to choose. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.