U.K. Labour’s Biggest Union Funder Backs Referendum on EU

The Unite labor union urged the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party to support a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Labour’s position of only holding a popular vote if powers are transferred from the U.K. to the EU will be “an electoral millstone,” the union, which is the party’s biggest financial backer, said in a motion passed at its annual conference today. Labour should follow Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and promise a vote, according to the motion.

“We know what the consequences are of silence on the matter of the European Union,” Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey told delegates at the conference in Liverpool, northwest England. “It leaves the field open for UKIP and others to exploit people’s real concerns in order to win votes for their right-wing agenda.”

The U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the EU, will take votes from Labour in key districts in next year’s general election if a referendum is not offered, McCluskey said.

“We do not seek a referendum to take Britain out of the EU,” he said. “We seek a referendum rethink in order to help get Labour into power here in Britain.”

McCluskey also accused the EU of “dancing to the bankers’ tune” and pushing deregulation and labor-market flexibility that have damaged the rights of working people.

Labour said its position on a referendum is settled.

“Unite are entitled to their view,” the party said in a statement. “The Labour Party will put forward policies which are in the best interests of the U.K.”

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