Minister for Europe David Lidington has written to Tory MPs to tell them they are still planning on stitching up the EU Referendum, but it’s ok because they they will ‘work with them’ to do so:
16th June 2015
EU REFERENDUM BILL
I am writing ahead of the Committee Stages of the Bill to address some of the key concerns raised by colleagues during the Second Reading debate last week and to set out the Government’s approach.
As you know, the Government’s intention in bringing forward this Bill is to fulfil our General Election Manifesto pledge to let the British people decide our country’s future in the European Union. It is our clear intention, through the Bill, to provide a straightforward, fair and effective framework for the referendum.
Timing of the Referendum
As stated during the debate, the government is keen to maintain as much flexibility as possible over the date of the referendum. The bill sets out a requirement to hold the referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest, and the Prime Minister has always been clear that if we can hold it earlier, then we will. This has lead to a great deal of speculation that the Government intends to hold the referendum in May 2016 in combination with elections to Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies. I can confirm that this is not the case. We have now tabled an amendment to specifically rule out 5th May 2016 as a date. If we are not able to debate it during committee, it will be retabled at report.
Section 125 of PPERA 2000
A number of colleagues raised concerns in the debate about Clause 25 and Schedule 1 of the Bill. I am grateful for the constructive way in which these concerns were raised.
The effect of Clause 25 is to disapply S.125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It therefore removes the statutory restrictions placed on Government publications in the final 28 days before the referendum. Under S.125, Government and Ministers are prohibited from publishing during the 28 days prior to polling day any material which deals with any of the issues raised by a referendum question; and which puts any arguments for or against a referendum outcome.
As the Foreign Secretary set out during the debate, after careful consideration we believe that it is unworkable and inappropriate to fully apply S.125 in this instance. It is unworkable because the restriction on publication is so broad that it could prevent Ministers from effectively conducting the significant amounts of ordinary day-to-day business between the Government and the EU that will necessarily continue during the pre-poll period. And it is inappropriate because the Government, having taken a position on the outcome of our negotiations with the rest of the EU, will naturally be obliged to account to Parliament and the British people.
The Foreign Secretary said during the debate that the Government will exercise proper restraint to ensure a balanced debate during the campaign. We have no intention of, for example, spending public money to deliver mailshots to households in the last four weeks of the campaign.
Working out a system that will reassure colleagues and voters that the referendum is a fair fight, yet will preserve the Government’s ability to act in the national interest is not straightforward. It is important that it is legally clear and robust.
Therefore, we will work with colleagues over the next few months to understand their specific areas of concern and bring forward at report stage in the Autumn government amendments that command the widest possible support within the House and put beyond any doubt that the campaign will be conducted throughout in a manner that all sides will see as fair.
I look forward to working with you during its passage.
David Lidington MP
Minister for Europe