UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s warnings over a “stitch up” referendum have started to become reality, as it emerged today that Prime Minister David Cameron intends to hand the ‘Yes’ answer in a British referendum on EU membership to the ‘In’ or ‘Europhile’ camp.
The BBC reports that while the final wording of the question has not been revealed, it is widely expected that Mr Cameron will give the upper hand – the ‘Yes’ box on the ballot papers – to those who want Britain’s relationship with the EU to remain unchanged.
The move is likely to anger Eurosceptic campaigners, who have previously warned that Mr Cameron’s Conservative government would seek to give undue influence to the Europhiles, given his close links with big corporates who benefit from open door immigration and low-waged, low-skilled workers from the continent.
In April of this year, UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed that if Mr Cameron were returned with a majority government, the British people could expect a “stitch up referendum”. He told the BBC Daily Politics programme, “Mr Cameron in 2008 gave this country a cast-iron guarantee that if he became prime minister there’d be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. He didn’t deliver. He then spent the whole of 2011 and 2012 saying a referendum would not be in the national interest.
“His own position is clear – he wants Britain to remain a member of the EU pretty much at all costs and, frankly, if Mr Cameron had a majority – it’s not going to happen – on his own, I fear, not a referendum but a complete stitch up.”
The question currently being considered is “Should the UK remain a member of the EU?”, but the ‘out’ campaigners were hoping to get the positive answer on their side, with a question such as, “Do you want Britain to leave the EU?” or even “Should Britain return to being a sovereign democracy, outside of the European political union?”
Critics have also pointed out that in Britain’s last two referenda, on the Alternative Vote system and on Scottish Independence, Mr Cameron handed the ‘Yes’ answer to the opposite team: those campaigning in favour of electoral reform, and those campaign in favour of Scottish independence respectively.
That the Prime Minister has chosen to deal Europhiles a blow this early into the Parliament is likely to be perceived by Tory backbenchers and Eurosceptic voters as a betrayal.
UPDATE 00:01, Thursday May 27th 2015: The official wording has been confirmed. The referendum question will read: “Should the UK remain a member of the European Union?”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage responded to the announcement: “It is a simple straightforward, unambiguous question. That much is clear.
“However that Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive ‘Yes’ suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge. He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given, without a single power repatriated”.