MPs warned Tuesday that the referendum on Britain’s EU membership should not be allowed to coincide with the 2016 European football championships in June.
Lawmakers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also concerned that the referendum campaign could overshadow the May 5 elections to their regional parliaments.
No date for the in-or-out referendum has yet been set, though many MPs believe it is likely to be on June 23 if Prime Minister David Cameron can cement a renegotiation package at a European summit on February 18 and 19.
In a parliamentary debate on the referendum timing, Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said he would prefer it to take place in the second half of the year.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland are playing in the Euro 2016 tournament, held from June 10 to July 10 in France.
Dodds said many supporters would be travelling to France and would require proxy and postal votes.
“If we’re going to have these issues just because the government has chosen to foist the EU referendum on us at a time when the European Championships are taking place, then people will want to concentrate on the football,” he said during a debate in the House of Commons.
He said he fears Cameron is “rushing” the referendum rather than “getting it right”.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond said a June 23 vote would conflict “with the important elections taking place in three out of the four nations of this United Kingdom”.
Speaking for Cameron’s Conservative government, Cabinet Office minister John Penrose confirmed there would be at least a six-week buffer between the May 5 elections and the referendum.
Having the same sort of campaign length as a general election “gives plenty of time for a full and in-depth discussion of the issues… without necessarily boring everybody to tears,” he added.
MPs were debating a DUP motion which “regrets that the government appears set to rush to a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in June”.
The motion was defeated by 286 votes to 70.