Cameron reverses decision on EU referendum vote date

UK Prime Minister David Cameron rules out EU referendum in May 2016 due to local elections

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The United Kingdom’s planned in-out EU referendum set for May 5, 2016 is due to be postponed to end of the year as the date clashes with the local elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland along with the London mayoral election.

The announcement came from the spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron’s office No. 10 Downing Street on Monday. 

"We've listened to the views expressed from MPs across the House and agreed that we won't hold the referendum on the same day as legislature elections," the spokesman said.

Cameron promised a referendum for on the UK’s membership to the EU as part of his election campaign in 2015.

The decision to delay the vote has been viewed as a tactical one, after Cameron faced the possibility of his first backbench rebellion over plans to scrap spending limits in the run-up to the referendum.

Downing Street has said the government will "seek to address" these concerns separately.

"The move will delight Eurosceptic MPs who had feared a rush to an early poll could favour the move to keep Britain in Europe," the Prime Minister’s office declared, as reported by BBC Newsnight.

Veteran Conservative MP and eurosceptic politician Bernard Jenkin welcomed the decision to postpone the date, saying holding the referendum on the same day as other major elections would have "confused the whole issue." 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, Jenkin also warned that the use of the “government’s entire publicity machine” during the referendum campaign could raise questions over the legitimacy of a pro-EU vote.

Jenkin also said the government should reverse plans to suspend the so called “purdah” rules, which bans the use of government funds or facilities in the final 28 days of a referendum campaign.

According to Nicholas Watt from The Guardian, ministers are adamant that they will seek to relax the purdah rules to allow the government to play a role in the final phase of the campaign. 

Downing Street believes that section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000, regarding the purdah rules, are unworkable for two reasons - the first being that ministers say the government needs to be able to carry on its normal business, the second being that the government is clear that it will not be neutral during the referendum campaign.

But government sources told The Guardian that they stood by their fundamental principle that the timing of the vote would be determined by the pace of the Prime Minister's negotiations with other European leaders.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, previously stressed that businesses and investors had been hoping for an early referendum, arguing that a long period of uncertainty about Britain's relationship with its European trading partners would harm the economy.

TRTWorld and agencies