PLANS to offer voters a “Yes or No” question in the European Union referendum are to be ditched after the Electoral Commission warned that it would create a perception of bias.
The decision is a departure from previous referendums, including last year’s Scottish independence poll and the 2011 one to change the voting system, but was made after complaints that the Yes or No question was biased when the commission tested a different alternative.
Prime Minister David Cameron has accepted the Electoral Commission’s advice that voters in the referendum promised by the end of 2017 should be asked whether they wish to remain in or leave the EU.
An amendment to be tabled by the government when the bill returns to Parliament on
7 September will propose changing the question to: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The responses would be “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union”.
The change comes after a commission assessment heard complaints that a “Yes/No” choice on the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” could give an advantage to campaigners for continued membership, because “Yes” has more positive connotations. Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said: “Any referendum question must be as clear as possible so that voters understand the important choice they are being asked to make.
“We have tested the proposed question with voters and received views from potential campaigners, academics and plain language experts.
“Whilst voters understood the question in the bill, some campaigners and members of the public feel the wording is not balanced and there was a perception of bias. The alternative question we have recommended addresses this.” The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said: “We will accept the Electoral Commission’s recommendation and we will table an amendment to the bill accordingly.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage welcomed the proposed change: “I’m in no doubt that the Yes/No offering was leading to great confusion and that Remain or Leave is much clearer. That combined with a more explicit question is the right direction of travel.”
And eurosceptic Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said: “I’m glad the PM has accepted the Electoral Commission’s recommendation on a fair question in the EU vote. Rigged ballots settle nothing.”
SNP Europe spokesperson Stephen Gethins said: “David Cameron is right to accept the recommendations of the Electoral Commission; however there is much more to the EU referendum than getting the question right.”