Nick Clegg speaks with Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband before Angela Merkel addresses both Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dem decision not to guarantee EU referendum offers relief for Labour

Miliband's party will not be left as the only one that "doesn't trust the people".

After recent murmurings that the Lib Dems could come out in favour of a guaranteed in/out EU referendum, there is relief among Labour that Nick Clegg has resolved not to do so. At a meeting of the parliamentary party last night, Lib Dem MPs agreed that the party would stick to its current stance of only holding a vote in the event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels. Tim Farron on the left and Jeremy Browne on the right were among those arguing for a referendum, but Clegg prevailed.

Had the Deputy PM changed his stance, it would have been harder for Ed Miliband to defend his refusal to promise a referendum, with Labour cast as the only party that "doesn't trust the people". Now, with both parties committed to only holding a vote if more sovereignty is passed to the EU, they will be able to team up to present Cameron's arbitrary timetable as a threat to business and to the national interest.

But while the Lib Dems have moved away from a referendum, Unite has moved towards one. The trade union's executive has warned that Labour's failure to support one is "likely to be an electoral millstone", arrguing that "the issue can never be resolved except on the basis of a clear democratic mandate". A motion on the issue will be voted on at the Unite conference in Liverpool today. But while the union's move will embolden those in Labour who have long argued for a referendum, such as Tom Watson and Keith Vaz, there is no prospect of Miliband changing his stance. As I have outlined before, the Labour leader believes that a guaranteed vote is wrong in both principle and practice, and is not prepared to risk the opening years of his government being dominated by an issue that could result in a premiership-ending defeat.

One remaining nuance that separates the Lib Dems' stance from that of Labour is that Clegg believes the conditions for a referendum are likely to be met in the next parliament. Miliband, however, does not. Expect this subtle but important difference to receive more attention as the future of Britain's EU membership comes under ever-greater scrutiny.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.