Dozens of Tories rebel on ‘rigged’ EU vote

Daily Mail - - News - By Daniel Martin Chief Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

DAVID Cameron faces a re­bel­lion by dozens of Tory MPs to­mor­row over his plans for an EU ref­er­en­dum.

The back­benchers will sup­port a rebel amend­ment de­mand­ing he drop plans to lift a ban on public money be­ing used to pro­mote the EU in the run-up to the vote.

They are set to urge the Prime Min­is­ter to re­in­state the tra­di­tional 28-day pe­riod dur­ing which gov­ern­ment and coun­cils can­not spend public money on cam­paign­ing.

Rebel leader Owen Pater­son, the for­mer en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, said the ref­er­en­dum re­sult would be seen as rigged and il­le­git­i­mate un­less this ‘pur­dah’ pe­riod is re­stored. More than 110 Con­ser­va­tive MPs have now joined a group pre­par­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of Bri­tain vot­ing to leave the Euro­pean Union – and Mr Pater­son said the group en­joyed some Cabi­net-level back­ing.

The arch-Euroscep­tic said there ‘will be sup­port’ from se­nior fig­ures for the grow­ing Con­ser­va­tives For Bri­tain ini­tia­tive, which says it backs the Prime Min­is­ter’s rene­go­ti­a­tion, but is drawing up plans if he fails to se­cure suf­fi­cient change.

And he sig­nalled it is ready to flex its mus­cles in the Com­mons if min­is­ters press ahead with pro­pos­als to scrap the usual re­stric­tions gov­ern­ing the use of the White­hall and Brussels ma­chine in the ‘short cam­paign’ in the run-up to a na­tional vote.

Mr Pater­son told BBC1’s An­drew Marr Show: ‘It is un­ac­cept­able that there will be no limit to

‘This is go­ing to skew the whole thing’

lo­cal gov­ern­ment, na­tional gov­ern­ment or above all Euro­pean gov­ern­ment agen­cies spend­ing money and send­ing in­for­ma­tion to cit­i­zens. That is go­ing to skew the whole thing.

‘This is a heart­felt plea to the Gov­ern­ment: if it is seen to be rigged, if the Bri­tish peo­ple don’t think it’s fair, then what­ever the re­sult it won’t be seen to be le­git­i­mate and this whole is­sue will fes­ter fur­ther.’ Mr Pater­son de­clined to re­veal the names of any mem­bers of the rebel group, but pushed on re­ports they in­clude Cabi­net min­is­ters, he said: ‘There will be sup­port, yes.’

Dozens of back­bench Tories are said to be ready to back a rebel amend­ment, and it is re­ported that Con­ser­va­tives For Bri­tain has the sup­port of 112 Tory MPs, with 13 peers and 12 MEPs also want­ing to join. Last night there were signs that No 10 may of­fer con­ces­sions on the pur­dah – as back­benchers said they were en­gaged in ‘con­struc­tive talks’ with the Gov­ern­ment.

Mr Cameron was forced last week to back­track on sug­ges­tions that Cabi­net min­is­ters who want to cam­paign for an exit would have to quit their jobs. He is due to meet the lead­ers of Italy, Lux­em­bourg, Slove­nia and Slo­vakia as he seeks to speak to all mem­ber states ahead of an EU sum­mit at the end of the month, where Bri­tain’s de­mands will be dis­cussed.

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