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No purdah for Civil Service in EU referendum vote

The Civil Service will not be expected to abide by purdah rules in the run-up to the EU referendum, it has been revealed.

The news comes as David Cameron has also warned ministers that he expects them to back any deal that he negotiates with European Union, or be sacked from the government.

Whitehall was bound by purdah, rules restricting civil servants’ activity that could be seen to favour a particular outcome, in the run-up to both last year’s referendum on Scottish independence  and the 2011 vote on whether to switch to the alternative vote system.

However the EU Referendum Bill, which will come before MPs tomorrow, removes the 28-day ‘purdah’ period.

The Electoral Commission said it could mean governments and others being “free to spend unlimited amounts of public funds promoting an outcome at the referendum right up until polling day”.

It added: “We are therefore disappointed and concerned that the Bill includes provision to remove the restrictions on the use of public funds by governments and others to promote an outcome right up until voters cast their vote.”

However, foreign secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC that there would be guidelines in place to stop public money being spent inappropriately.

“The government machine will continue running, Europe will continue running and we will have to engage with it," he said.

"But the government is clear. It doesn’t want to be neutral on this. We hope to be able to achieve a package that we can recommend to the British people. This is a core manifesto commitment and ministers will want to speak out on the referendum."

Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe and chairman of the Eurosceptic group Conservatives For Britain, told the Daily Mail: “The idea that the government can spend unlimited amounts of public money on this campaign is absurd and in any other election it would be unlawful.

“There is a clear difference between ministers campaigning and entire government departments actively pushing for this. I would like the government to amend the law without a great fuss and drama. It may be this was the result of a bit of overzealous drafting.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Rob C   08/06/2015 at 12:14

Another attempt at a stitch up..?

Ronnie Gunn   08/06/2015 at 12:26

I strongly agree with the Electoral Commission and Steve Baker MP that the government should not flout this rule. There should be absolutely no difference between the rules governing the coming Referendum on EU membership and that for Scottish independence.

Jane W   08/06/2015 at 12:36

This is an absolute disgrace. I fully agree with Rob C and Ronnie Gunn. Why should my taxes be spent promoting an outcome I may not agree with? What has happened to the concept of British fair-play? I may well vote against on principle. I was mislead last time (no mention of "ever-closer" integration) and it seems we are to be misled at our expense this time.

Cllr Chris Cooke   08/06/2015 at 14:13

So .... re-run of 1975 then? Where there nothing but useless "assurances, understandings" etc. and the Government spent many, many times what EU critics were allowed. Back then there was the NO and YES campaign leaflets and then the Government did a whole new Government YES leaflet. I've a feeling it's going to get far dirtier this time around!

David James   08/06/2015 at 15:07

Totally unacceptable.

Dr Alistair Somerville Ford   09/06/2015 at 11:42

The good people in the Republic of Ireland said 'No' to joining the EU at their first referendum. The Irish government and the EU then spent millions to change the electorate's view and lo and behold at the next vote the people voted 'Yes'!

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