Cameron to tackle ‘pur­dah’ re­lax­ation con­cerns

The Herald - - POLITICS -

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.”

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