Andy Burnham, the frontrunner for the Labour leadership, will propose that the party learns lessons from the Scottish referendum campaign and set up a separate campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.
Burnham believes some of the backlash against Labour in Scotland after the referendum was caused by campaigning alongside the Conservatives and fears that if the party is seen as acting alongside the Tories over Europe, it may make it harder to win back support from Ukip backers.
Burnham’s proposal comes as some Labour MPs, especially those in northern England, have been suggesting that the party should not adopt a full-throated pro-European stance in the referendum campaign.
Some pro-Europeans do not object to a distinct Labour campaign, but fear there may be a wider Labour backsliding on Europe in a bid to woo Ukip voters.
Writing in Progress magazine, Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, warned: “It would be a huge mistake for Labour to consign itself to irrelevance on the critical issue of the country’s future membership of the EU or the wider issue of how Britain sees its world role. Labour cannot stand back when this issue matters for every company in the country that exports to the EU and every company that supplies them.”
Chuka Umunna, the pro-European shadow business secretary, told the same magazine: “I think it is really important that, when making the argument to stay in, the Labour party is at the forefront of a broad, grassroots campaign involving a range of actors and groups in civil society. We cannot be seen, or allow ourselves to be seen, as making the argument as part of a cosy club of established political parties and big businesses … we cannot allow Ukip and the Eurosceptic-right of the Tory party to frame the debate as one solely about immigration”.
Some pro-Europeans believe it is simplistic to think that the backlash against Labour in Scotland is due to the Better Together campaign rather than stemming from deep-seated revulsion against Labour’s politics.
Burnham, who visits the European parliament on Wednesday, promised to shape a distinctive EU reform agenda to strengthen the enforcement of the national minimum wage and address the undercutting of high-skilled labour; action against agencies who recruit exclusively from abroad and deny local workers employment opportunities; and reform to entitlement to in- and out-of-work benefits to reflect the contributory element.
He said: “Even though Labour is in a leadership campaign, I am not going to let the EU debate be defined by David Cameron. I will discuss with Labour colleagues in the European parliament what a distinctive pro-European reform package will look like.
“These are areas that David Cameron will not be focusing on and that is why we be raising them today to make the Labour case for Europe. Renegotiation cannot be a green light to turn the clock back and weaken employment rights.
“Labour will also learn the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum and it is my intention to have a separate Labour yes campaign.”
Although Labour pro-Europeans do not object to a separate Labour campaign, there is concern that the party may back off from full support for the EU, as well as focusing excessively on winning back Ukip voters, as opposed to Conservative voters.
McFadden writes: “There is no doubt that the way we argued our referendum case was an issue on the doorstep in Scotland, though the troubles of Scottish Labour go deeper than that. The Scottish National party had been running Scotland for years and already held a majority in the Scottish parliament.
“So let us debate how we shape our argument and if learning from the Scottish experience points to a more distinct Labour yes campaign then we should establish that. But there is a difference between campaign tactics and holding to our strategic position.
“We could not have opted out of the argument to maintain the UK. We are not a nationalist party.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd June 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010