Dozens of Tories rebel on ‘rigged’ EU vote
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.