MPs Warn Government Fairness of EU Referendum in Jeopardy

EU referendum
REUTERS/Toby Melville

The British government has cast a shadow over the fairness of a planned referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union by trying to relax rules designed to ensure pre-vote official impartiality, a committee of MPs said.

Prime Minister David Cameron plans to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before holding a referendum by the end of 2017. He has said he wants to stay in a reformed EU, but has ruled nothing out if his renegotiation is unsuccessful.

The government’s plans for the referendum have been criticised by many MPs for dropping a usual pre-vote ‘purdah’ period during which the actions of government employees, including ministers acting in an official capacity, are constrained to prevent them from influencing the result.

“The government’s proposal has cast a shadow over the propriety of the process, even at this early stage,” Bernard Jenkin, a member of Cameron’s Conservatives and chairman of a cross-party committee of MPs scrutinising the plans, said in a letter to ministers dated July 21.

“We regard this as completely unacceptable.”

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