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18th Jan 2020

Britain's EU vote to ask 'remain or leave?'

  • Cameron is under pressure from eurosceptic rebels (Photo: Consillium)

The question UK voters will have to answer in the planned referendum on their country's membership of the EU will probably indicate a clear "remain or leave" alternative, the British government said on Tuesday (1 September).

The office of prime minister David Cameron said the government would introduce an amendment to the EU referendum bill, after the Electoral Commission recommended a new wording to avoid favouring the pro-EU side.

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The commission recommended that the question should be: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?".

The two possible answers should be "Remain a member of the European Union" or "Leave the European Union", the commission said in a report published Tuesday.

Concerns

According to the bill put forward to the House of Commons, the present question is "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?", with Yes or No as the possible answers.

"We have concerns about the proposed ‘yes/no’ question", the Electoral Commission said in its report.

The commission explained that the consultation process showed that "there was clearly a strong perception that the proposed question in the bill is not neutral and would not lead to a fair outcome. This also led some respondents to warn that the legitimacy of the outcome would come under doubt".

"These views raise concerns about the potential legitimacy, in the eyes of those campaigning to leave and some members of the public, of the referendum result - particularly if there was a vote to remain a member of the European Union".

It added: "The referendum result should be one that all voters and referendum campaigners can accept and have confidence in. For that reason, we recommend changing the way the question is asked, that it is more neutral."

The PM's office said that Cameron "will accept the Electoral Commission's recommendations and we will table an amendment to the bill accordingly".

Rebellion

In recent months, the organisation of the referendum, which will take place before the end of 2017, has prompted backbench Tory opposition, with eurosceptic MPs accusing No.10 of bias.

In June, 27 Tory rebels voted against Cameron's plan to scrap the purdah period during the referendum campaign.



The purdah period refers to the four weeks before an election, when ministers and civil servants are forbidden from issuing political statements.

The Tory rebels accused the PM of wanting to promote the Yes side.

To alleviate concerns, the government then said it would not use public money to promote a Yes vote.

Europe minister David Lidington wrote to every Tory MP to promise that "the campaign will be conducted throughout in a manner that all sides will see as fair".

Cameron also ruled out the referendum will take place on the same day as the next Scottish election, on 5 May 2016, to placate MPs who said this too would favour Europe.

The government amendment will likely be examined by the House of Commons on 7 September.

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