Cameron to tackle ‘purdah’ relaxation concerns
MINISTERS will seek to address MPs’ concerns over the proposed relaxation of “purdah” rules during the European Union referendum when the issue returns to the House of Commons tomorrow, Downing Street has said.
The rules would normally limit official announcements on Europe during a four-week campaign period.
Scottish National Party foreign affairs spokesman Alex Salmond has warned that, without the restrictions, the Government would be able to “rig” the in-out referendum on the UK’s EU membership, which the PM has promised by the end of 2017.
He said: “Just because you are pro-European, as I am to my fingertips, doesn’t mean you believe the Government should be allowed to rig the referendum. Why on earth would you abolish the purdah rules unless you have something in mind to try to rig the referendum?”
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 set out a 28-day period ahead of a referendum, during which ministers, government departments and local authorities are banned from publishing material relating to the issue in question.
However, Downing Street argues that this would cause problems in the EU referendum because of the volume of day-to-day government business which involves the EU.
Mr Cameron has already made it clear that, once he has completed his renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership, the Government will not be a “neutral bystander” in the debate.
Leading Eurosceptic Owen Paterson has said it would be unacceptable for official bodies to use public money to promote a Yes vote, and urged Labour to join up to 80 Tory rebels to over turn the proposal to ditch purdah when the Bill enters the committee stage in the Commons tomorrow.
A sked whether Mr Cameron was planning concessions in a bid to head off a possible rebellion, the PM’s official spokeswoman said: “Our aim here is to look at how we can address people’s concerns on the purdah point, while retaining the ability for the government to publish things during the referendum campaign without being constrained in the way it would have been previously.”