Government to table amendments to EU referendum Bill


The Government has tabled changes to the arrangements for the referendum on Britain's EU membership, in a bid to allay MPs' concerns about ensuring the vote is fair.

Amendments put down to the EU Referendum Bill will restore the "purdah" rule, which bars ministers from using public money to promote one side in the final weeks before the poll.

However a "business as usual" provision will allow ministers to continue comment on European business such as statements by the European Council or rulings by the European Court of Justice.

A further new clause will enable ministers to bring forward further modifications to the "purdah" rule subject to parliamentary approval.

Europe Minister David Lidington said: "Today's amendments deliver on the commitment I made in June to take into account concerns about activity in the final four weeks before the referendum while ensuring that we can continue to fight Britain's corner in Brussels on ongoing EU business and make it possible for ministers, subject to parliamentary approval, to communicate a position on the referendum in restrained and moderate terms."

Ministers had argued that the change was needed to allow the Government to continue to conduct normal business with EU partners, but a parliamentary committee warned in July that it risked casting "a shadow of doubt" over the propriety of the in/out vote.

The new proposals are intended designed to reassure MPs that ministers are not seeking to wield the full weight of the Government machine or spend large amounts of public money in support of the campaign to stay in the EU, if that is what the Prime Minister recommends.