EU referendum: Government to make changes regarding "purdah" rules

James Nickerson
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Cameron faced his first rebellion of this parliament in June over the "purdah" period (Source: Getty)

Prime Minister David Cameron is set to concede more changes to the EU referendum, this time focusing on “purdah” period rules - just a day after he bowed to pressure to change the wording of the EU referendum question.

The Prime Minister has come under pressure from MPs to respect the official purdah rules. They argued the fairness of the EU referendum was in jeopardy because of attempts to relax rules designed to maintain official impartiality before the vote.

In an ordinary election the purdah period comes into force 28 days before the vote, preventing the government from using the “machinery of government” to explain the outcome of the negotiations. Purdah is designed to prevent the government giving an advantage to one campaign over the other.

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Although Cameron wanted to suspend these laws, allowing ministers to discuss European matters in public, MPs said this could unfairly skew the result.

“The government’s proposal has cast a shadow over the propriety of the process, even at this early stage. We regard this as completely unacceptable,” said Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, which is looking in to the impartiality of the referendum, in an open letter to ministers in July.

But a Whitehall source told the BBC changing the rules will be a "pretty significant shift in the government position".

There is no wish within the government to be in a position where doubt is cast on the fairness of the referendum. It has got to be fair. And it has got to be seen to be fair.

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In June Cameron faced his first rebellion after the General Election when 27 Conservative MPs voted against the EU Referendum Bill, after accusing ministers of tilting the vote in favour of the "In" campaign by allowing the government to issue public statements about Europe in the four weeks before the vote.

The Prime Minister's about-turn comes the day after he accepted the recommendation of the Electoral Commission that the wording of the referendum question should be changed.

The changes boosted the anti-EU camp: Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he was in "no doubt that the Yes/NO offering was leading to great confusion and that remain or leave is much clearer".

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