UK lawmakers warn government fairness of EU referendum in jeopardy

The British government has cast a shadow over the fairness of a planned referendum on Britain`s membership of the European Union by trying to relax rules designed to ensure pre-vote official impartiality, a committee of lawmakers said.

Reuters| Updated: Jul 22, 2015, 06:14 AM IST

London: The British government has cast a shadow over the fairness of a planned referendum on Britain`s membership of the European Union by trying to relax rules designed to ensure pre-vote official impartiality, a committee of lawmakers said.

Prime Minister David Cameron plans to renegotiate Britain`s relationship with the EU before holding a referendum by the end of 2017. He has said he wants to stay in a reformed EU, but has ruled nothing out if his renegotiation is unsuccessful.

The government`s plans for the referendum have been criticised by many lawmakers for dropping a usual pre-vote `purdah` period during which the actions of government employees, including ministers acting in an official capacity, are constrained to prevent them from influencing the result.

"The government`s proposal has cast a shadow over the propriety of the process, even at this early stage," Bernard Jenkin, a member of Cameron`s Conservatives and chairman of a cross-party committee of lawmakers scrutinising the plans, said in a letter to ministers dated July 21. 

"We regard this as completely unacceptable."

Jenkin warned the government must change its plans or risk the legitimacy of the result being called into question.

Britain`s election watchdog has also expressed concerns about the planned changes, warning they could see the government spend unlimited amounts of public funds on promoting its preferred result.

The government has argued that the rules needed to be changed to prevent a situation whereby British officials were unable to react to international events concerning Europe for fear of breaching regulations.

Last month a small group of rebels from C