LONDON (Reuters) - British opposition leader Ed Miliband will on Monday attack Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to hold a European Union membership referendum, seeking to shift the political agenda away from questions over his own future.
In a speech to business leaders, Miliband will warn that political rivals who "flirt" with pulling Britain out of the European Union are putting millions of jobs at risk by generating uncertainty among business and deterring investment.
The speech will come after a poll by YouGov showed backing for Miliband's leadership had fallen sharply among Labour voters.
Miliband will be looking to refocus attention away from speculation that some members of his party are readying a bid to oust him, and onto the issue of Europe - an area which is seen as a major headache for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron six months away from an national election.
Cameron has promised a referendum by 2017 in a bid to combat discontent among rebellious Conservative lawmakers and win back Eurosceptic voters who have defected to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Miliband will call that policy a "false solution".
"Giving succor to the argument that the real answer is leaving the EU, or contemplating it, simply drags us closer to exit," Miliband will say, according to advance extracts of his speech released by his office.
"Every nod and wink to those who want to leave sends a message to potential investors in our country that we are not open for business."
Miliband's comments are also aimed at addressing the growing threat that UKIP, who advocate an immediate withdrawal from the 28-country bloc, pose to his own chances of becoming prime minister.
Right-leaning UKIP emerged as a serious contender in centre-left Labour's northern heartlands last month when they won a surprisingly high 39 percent of the vote in a special election to replace a deceased Labour lawmaker. Labour won that vote but by a much narrower margin than expected.
By making his appeal directly to business leaders, Miliband is hoping to cash in on their unhappiness at the possibility that a Conservative election win could ultimately see them lose unfettered access to the European Union's single market of 500-million people.
"If I am prime minister I will never risk your businesses, British jobs, or British prosperity by playing political games with our membership of the European Union," he will say.
Labour has previously had a tough time convincing business groups to back it. Policies such as imposing a price freeze on energy companies and raising the top rate of income tax have been dubbed by critics as "anti-business" and have proved unpopular with lobby groups.
Edited by Aidan Martindale