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​Key union leader urges Labour Party to adopt EU referendum pledge

Published time: July 02, 2014 17:59
General Secretary of the Unite union, Len McCluskey (Reuters /  Neil Hall)

General Secretary of the Unite union, Len McCluskey (Reuters / Neil Hall)

Labour's biggest union backer Unite is urging the party to match the Conservatives' pledge to offer an in/out referendum on Europe.

The Labour Party’s biggest financial backer, Unite the Union, today urged the opposition party to commit to an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU before next year’s election, to avoid being portrayed as “anti-democratic.”

The union called the current position of Ed Miliband’s party an “electoral millstone,” arguing that a referendum pledge could help stem the growing popularity of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and help team Miliband win next year’s general election.

While not endorsing a UK exit from the European Union, Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, says Labour should be “offering the British people a vote on something that is clearly a growing source of public concern,” and accused the party of ducking the question because of its commitment to business.

"This issue can never be resolved except on the basis of a clear democratic mandate,” the union said.

Labour’s shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, rejected the union leader’s comments.

“We’ve said we don’t think an in/out referendum is required before you have a proposal on the table to have treaty change. We will not be changing our position,” he told Politics Home.

Labour’s shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie (Photo from wikipedia.org)

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy, is currently holding its annual policy conference in Liverpool.

As the biggest single financial backer of the Labour Party, the union this week pledged £12 million to bankroll the party’s election campaign. “The EU has increasingly danced to the bankers’ tune, imposing eye-watering austerity on several Eurozone countries,” McCluskey added.

“In a tight election this can make the difference. So let’s give the British people a say on the EU, and when they do, Unite will be there arguing for the benefits of internationalism and a real social Europe.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron faced “utter humiliation” on Monday as he was forced to congratulate Jean-Claude Juncker on his win as European Commission president – despite fiercely opposing his nomination for almost two months.

The UK’s relationship with Europe remains a contentious subject with Cameron promising an in/out referendum in 2017 if wins next year’s general election.

Earlier this year, McCluskey expressed stronger discontent with Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party and his adoption of pro-austerity policies, saying Unite could set up a rival left-wing party if Labour lost the 2015 election.