PM: Purdah to be lifted for EU referendum vote

Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture: PA

Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture: PA

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DAVID Cameron has indicated that the European Union referendum could fall on the same day as the Scottish Parliament elections next year.

During Prime Minister’s questions Mr Cameron refused to rule out the Holyrood election on 5 May next year amid suggestions that he hopes to hold the referendum in 2016.

Under questioning from acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, Mr Cameron also made it clear that he had decided to exempt the UK government from purdah rules, which prevents the government machinery being used in the short campaign for the referendum, because of the experience in last year’s Scottish independence vote.

The decision to not have purdah during the referendum short campaign has infuriated many eurosceptic Tory backbenchers who have raised concerns that the full machinery of government could be used in the campaign.

In the debate on Tuesday, former cabinet minister Owen Paterson warned that “voters will not accept a rigged election.”

But Mr Cameron said in PMQs: “When it came to the Scottish referendum, I actually felt in the last few weeks before the referendum the UK government was often being advised it couldn’t take a view on the future of the UK.

“I think that was a ridiculous situation, which is why we have put forward the change to the purdah rules.”

On the date of the referendum, the interim Labour leader said she “strongly agreed” with the Electoral Commission that referendum polling day should not feature any other elections.

She urged Mr Cameron to agree a “separate voting day” for the referendum.

The Prime Minister said it was an “important issue of protest and procedure”, adding: “My view is the timing of the referendum should be determined by the timing of the renegotiation. When the renegotiation is complete, we set a date for the referendum.

“I don’t myself think it should be determined by the timing of other elections.”

Mr Cameron said he had been content the referendum on whether Britain should adopt the alternative vote electoral system was held on the same day as other elections, telling MPs: “I think people are capable of making those two decisions.”

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