17:09 Monday 23rd February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL HAWKINS: Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden has been visiting businesses in Cambridge today to tell them what a Labour government would do about Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The Conservatives of course say they’d renegotiate terms of the UK’s membership and then hold an in/out referendum in 2017. The question is, what would a Labour government do. Their Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden dropped by earlier to tell me more.
PAT MCFADDEN: Labour wants the UK to stay in the European Union. We think the biggest risk posed to investment and jobs and trade for the UK is to pull out. In terms of a referendum, it isn’t Labour’s priority to have a referendum on the EU. I think we should show some leadership. We’ve not ruled it out, in the event of a further major transfer of powers from the UK to the EU in the future.
PAUL HAWKINS: What powers?
PAT MCFADDEN: There are some changes we want to see. For example, we’ve said that there should be a longer waiting period before new arrivals get access to some of the benefits that we have. We think that’s fair, fair for citizens here in the UK. Our position is not that the status quo is perfect. Our position is to argue for change, and that’s the message that I’ve been discussing today here in Cambridge,with local businesses and with the University, because there’s a very important higher education research aspect to this. Research funding from the EU is very important to world-class universities like we have here in Cambridge. In fact, I was told by the University today that they’ve secured some €400 million of research funding from the EU, and that’s part of a €7 billion stream of funding over the last five or six years from the EU to major UK universities. So it’s not just about trade. It’s also about research and development in our best universities.
PAUL HAWKINS: John Mills, one of Labour’s biggest donors, said recently that Ed Miliband’s refusal to let the public have a say would certainly cost the party votes in key seats. And he said minds in Brussels are much more likely to take renegotiation seriously if they know there is a substantial risk that the UK will leave the EU, ie from the Conservatives point of view they have some leverage to renegotiate, but Labour don’t have that leverage.
PAT MCFADDEN: Well John Mills’ views on this are well known. I actually don’t think that you get leverage by having one hand on the exit door all the time. And I think Britain’s influence in the EU is becoming diminished by the continued threat to leave. So I take a different view on this, which is that actually we gain more leverage if we work in alliance with other countries.
PAUL HAWKINS: Last week a former Head of Labour’s ruling body the National Executive Committee Harriet Yeo said she was leaving the party and switching her support to UKIP, because she was disillusioned she said by Labour’s Europe stance. She wrote in the Telegraph. She said she’d been told of many senior Labour law-makers favour the referendum, but have been asked not to speak out.
PAT MCFADDEN: I saw those comments. It isn’t true to say that most Shadow Ministers or senior people in the Party are uncomfortable with our stance. I think the opposite is true. Of course there is concern in the country about some aspects of EU membership. We’re aware of that. but this is also about leadership, and Mr Cameron has actually adopted an attitude where he didn’t want a referendum, and he’s now promising one.
PAUL HAWKINS: But shouldn’t you let the country decide what is in the best interests of the country? Why don’t you let the people decide? You are the Party that’s meant to represent the working class.
PAT MCFADDEN: When we have a General Election in a couple of months time, everybody is going to be pretty clear about where we stand on this, when they vote. And if they vote Labour, they’ll be voting for a party and a government that wants Britain to stay as an outward looking, engaged part of the European economy and the world economy.
PAUL HAWKINS: Why can’t the British people decide under a Labour government?
PAT MCFADDEN: To have a referendum?
PAUL HAWKINS: To have a referendum. Yes. To decide whether the country should be in or out.
PAT MCFADDEN: We’ve taken the view that ..
PAUL HAWKINS: Is that undemocratic?
PAT MCFADDEN: No, because I think if you offer people a referendum on anything, they’ll say yes they want it. But actually ..
PAUL HAWKINS: But this is a pretty big thing. I admit you c an’t give them a referendum for every bit of policy, but for this, this is a major, this is a major issue.
PAT MCFADDEN: It’s a major issue for our future, and we’ll put in our manifesto where we stand. And if we’re elected, we’ll show some leadership on this issue.
PAUL HAWKINS: OK. And just finally, I just want to talk about a story that’s making the headlines today. Ed Miliband’s written to the Prime Minister calling for a ban on MPs having second jobs, after Jack Straw and Sir Malcom Rifkind secretly filmed apparently offering their services to a private company for cash. They deny any wrongdoing. Do you agree with your Leader? Should MPs be banned from having second jobs? What are your thoughts on that?
PAT MCFADDEN: Well I think what he’s talking about in particular is directorships and consultancies and so on. I’ve never earned anything other than my MP salary since I got elected. I think an MP’s salary is enough to live on. Jack Straw, let’s see what the facts of this thing were. He’s referred himself to the Commissioner for Standards to have a look at this. But from my own point of view, personally, I’ve never had any outside earnings. I’m a full-time MP. I get paid a salary. It’s enough to live on.
PAUL HAWKINS: These kind of stories, they’re not good though, especially in the build-up to an election. We’re battling against voter apathy, distrust of politicians and all this.
PAT MCFADDEN: Of course they are. They’re not good. I think most of your listeners think you’re paid £67,000 a year as an MP. We’re all paid the same salary. That’s enough for you to live on. I quite understand why they take that view.
PAUL HAWKINS: There you go. The words of Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister, Pat McFadden there.