John Mills is an economist, entrepreneur and political commentator, as well as the Labour Party’s largest donor. He is also Chairman and Founder of JML – the consumer goods company, which is one of Britain’s fastest growing businesses. He has written this exclusive article for Get Britain Out:
The polls and electoral arithmetic are pretty clear. Ed Miliband is now very probably on course to enter Downing Street after 7th May 2015 as Prime Minister. One of the many items in the new PM’s ‘in-tray’ will be the ongoing turmoil in the Eurozone, with the Greek debt crisis, an extensive €1.1 trillion programme of government bond-buying, a currency in decline and a continent hurt by weak to anaemic growth figures.
Despite the EU Commissions recent steps it’s hard to believe recent developments on Quantitative Easing will give the Eurozone anything more than a temporary boost, especially taking into account the situation in Greece. It is increasingly obvious only far-reaching reform of the Eurozone, involving fundamental changes to the way the EU and Eurozone works, will address the underlying issues in the bloc. The single currency is facing structural problems, not cyclical ones. These include the chronically high levels of unemployment (and especially youth unemployment) in many southern European countries, along with ongoing indecision over which fiscal powers need to be centralised within the Eurozone in order to bring greater stability.
Given the likely trajectory of the Eurozone during the next Parliament, alongside Labour’s commitment to an In/Out referendum in the event of a new Treaty, an EU referendum in the UK looks increasingly inevitable despite Labour’s current public opposition to one.
Whilst Miliband has rejected holding a referendum, perhaps believing this will significantly increase its appeal among the business community, although this is not what our polling shows, developments on the continent mean it may have no choice. Changes on the continent mean the pressure for a vote on major developments caused by the continuing Eurozone crisis will be undeniable. Furthermore, recent opinion polling shows Labour voters back a referendum on our EU membership by 43% to 38%, while Labour supporters also back a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU by the wider margin of 55% to 19%. Over 30 Labour MPs publically back ‘Labour for a Referendum’, and many more in private. Can Labour really afford to set itself against both the voters and the inevitable fiscal and political winds on the continent?
The worst possible scenario for both Labour and for British business, is that developments in the Eurozone significantly alter Britain’s position in the EU without the opportunity this presents for negotiating a better deal being seized, or the British people being given their say in a referendum. Public discontent with our current terms of membership, already rising, will only be stoked further by such developments, risking the derailing of a new Labour government’s wider domestic agenda.
With significant changes to the Eurozone now approaching fast, the time will soon arrive for Labour in Government to engage with changes in the EU to craft a new settlement which better suits Britain. Ed Miliband has the opportunity to take his place in history as the Prime Minister who not only moulded a better relationship between Britain and Europe but, like Harold Wilson before him, gave the voters their say on this new settlement through an In/Out referendum. The opportunity is there for Ed Miliband to grasp. I think the way the future is likely to unfold may very well provide him with the chance to seize it.
John Mills, Chairman and Founder of JML