Any chance of pre-vote fair play in the run-up to the UK’s referendum on EU membership? Not much it seems, unless the rules change.
Plans to loosen rules restricting Government activity in the run up to the EU referendum have been condemned by MPs, who warned that it would “cast a shadow of doubt” over the poll. [Guernsey Press reports]
An in/out vote on the UK’s membership of the EU has been promised by the end of 2017.
The Government has claimed that ministers could be hampered in summits with European counterparts unless the purdah rules are eased in the weeks ahead of the in/out vote on membership of the EU promised by the end of 2017.
But a Commons select committee which looked at the issue concluded that the plan would make it appear as though the Government was “seeking to circumvent proper processes”.
The controversial plan has left eurosceptics furious because they fear it will allow Whitehall to support a campaign to stay in the EU, if that is what Prime Minister David Cameron recommends.
Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the Government had to “conduct itself properly, fairly and impartially” during the purdah period.
More: Senior Tory Mr Jenkin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the current plan “stacks it incredibly in favour of the Government” because ministers would be able to rely on the support of thousands of press officers and scores of special advisers.
“They are all going to be spin doctoring,” he said. “In purdah during a general election, during the Scottish referendum, they had to go offline in the last 28 days and that makes it just a little bit fairer.
“It’s likely that the Yes vote will vastly outspend the No campaigns anyway, but this just tilts the playing field even more in favour of the Government’s view.”
H/T Tim Channon