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PM accepts electoral watchdog's advice on EU referendum question

Published 01/09/2015

Voters in the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union should not be asked a
Voters in the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union should not be asked a "Yes/No" question, to avoid possible perceptions of bias, the country's electoral watchdog has recommended.

David Cameron has ditched plans to ask voters to answer Yes or No to continued UK membership of the EU, after the electoral watchdog warned the question could create perceptions of bias.

Instead, the Prime Minister 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 September 7 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.

The Commission proposed changing the question in its statutory advice issued to Parliament, ahead of the report stage of the European Union Referendum Bill.

Commission chair 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.

"It is now for Parliament to discuss our advice and decide which question wording should be used."

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."

The spokeswoman said that the original question followed earlier advice from the Commission when the wording was considered in the context of a backbench bill.

"The Prime Minister's objective has always been clear - to give people a very clear and simple choice," she said. "We believe that will still be achieved with the recommendation from the Electoral Commission today."

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.

"I've argued all along, though, that the wording matters less than maintaining the rule about not deploying state resources on either side."

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