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Miliband bottles it - Labour will abstain on the EU Referendum Bill

By Mark Wallace
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MilibandEd Miliband feels very strongly about an in/out EU referendum - he doesn't think we should have one. According to his latest instructions to Labour MPs, obtained by Guido Fawkes, giving the people a say:

...would create four years of uncertainty, putting at risk the national interest by damaging both jobs and the economy.

Given the electorate's overwhelming support for a referendum, this puts Labour in a sticky situation. There is considerable discontent among their MPs, who find themselves put on the spot by voters wondering why they won't support the people's right to decide.

So, forced to choose between sticking with his unpopular opposition to a referendum or changing tack and supporting the idea, Miliband has ingeniously decided to do neither. When James Wharton's referendum Bill comes before the Commons, Labour will abstain.

They intend to run and hide rather than face the music - though the Whips are doing their best to avoid the spectacle of completely empty Opposition benches:

We will be looking for suitable speakers so that the chamber is not completely empty 
The news makes today's criticisms from the New Statesman seem prophetic:
Miliband pushes his luck, leaving crucial decisions untaken for so long that the party starts to sound restive and discipline looks close to breaking down

While the Whips search for MPs willing to stand up and explain why abstaining on such an important issue is the right thing to do, it seems likely that the members of Labour For A Referendum will turn out in force, defying their leader and further adding to the evidence that Labour is split on Europe.

The tweets of Opposition MPs this afternoon are very revealing - they cover everything from dog muck to media ownership, but on the question of Miliband's decision to abstain on such a fundamental constitutional issue there is only silence: