Eurosceptic Members of Parliament believe the British government will twist rules designed to stop public resources being used to unfairly influence the country’s European Union referendum in order to block the civil service from releasing migration data ahead of the vote.
The Cabinet Office is currently preparing guidelines which could bar civil servants from publishing data, including “trade figures and migration figures”, in the 28 days before the nations goes to the ballot box.
A critical set of migration figures is due to be released on May 26th — less than a month before the nation votes — which are expected to show an upsurge in migration from European Union (EU) countries.
Restricting the public’s access to such information in the so-called “purdah” period could unfairly influence the outcome, eurosceptic MPs say. Some of the same MPs however as initially pushed for the “purdah” rules to be applied, as they are designed to stop the government using the Civil Service to campaign.
The guidance is also expected to block replies to Freedom of Information requests from eurosceptics and others, which are likely to pertain to migration from EU countries and its impact on jobs and public services.
According to the Sunday Times, senior MPs last night threatened to summon the Cabinet Secretary before a committee of MPs again if the purdah rules are implemented to favour the government’s position.
Bernard Jenkin, the eurosceptic chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said barristers would be scrutinising the legality of the guidance and those drawing it up would be held to account.
He said: “We will challenge any attempt to use guidance to the civil service to suppress any statistics or information which is normally made available. We will again consult Speaker’s counsel to assess the legality of any such guidance.
“I will invite [the committee] to ensure that those who draw up any guidance will be held accountable to parliament and to the law. We would also invite the UK Statistics Authority to comment on the matter,” said Jenkin, Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex.