EU Referendum

EU Referendum: Purdah Wars II


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It is a big day today as the Referendum Bill Report Stage hits the Commons, with 38 pages of amendments tabled.

There are some crucial amendments including one which seeks to prevent campaigners from taking part if they get money from the EU. And Mr Paterson will be seeking to speak in the debate, with some key interventions planned.

In the meantime, we're seeing some crass commentary about the nature of the Government's amendments, with speculation that technical changes to the allocation of the designation period permit a "snap poll".

This has been fully explored by The Boiling Frog, to which one must add that the advice of the Electoral Commission – which wants there to be nine months between the promulgation of the legislation and the poll – has effectively legal standing. The Government cannot ignore it.

Given also that the Electoral Commission actually supports the amendment, it is fairly logical to assume that it is not going to contradict its own advice – especially as the Commission has been robust in expressing is disagreement with the removal of the purdah period.

That the idea of a snap poll hits the press, however, simply illustrates yet again the obsession of the media with trivia and its inability to see the bigger picture. Supposedly, David Cameron wants to hold a snap referendum one month after finalising his EU negotiations, yet it has been apparent for some considerable time that these negotiations are an empty charade. The agenda has changed.

For the moment, though, the focus is on today, to see whether there is an effective rebellion by the Tories which, in conjunction with a Labour amendment to restore purdah, could embarrass the Government and set Mr Cameron at odds with his own back-benchers.

We will be watching developments very closely and will report again after the debate.