By OWEN PATERSON, TORY MP AND FORMER CABINET MINISTER FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
It’s one week from polling day. The ‘Yes’ campaign has thrown the kitchen sink at the referendum – and yet is still behind in the opinion polls.
Picture the scene. Jitters in No 10, nerves in Brussels, panic in the Establishment. The European project is due to be dealt a bitter blow. Britain is on the verge of leaving the EU and reclaiming its status as an independent sovereign nation.
Oh, but hang on one second, it won’t be over just yet. Why? Because the Government is seeking to bend the rules to leave it free to fix the vote in its favour, right up until polling day. How? By abolishing ‘purdah’.
Purdah is a technical term that refers to the time between when an election or referendum campaign begins and the results are announced.
During this period, the Government and its Whitehall machinery are forbidden from doing anything to steer the vote one way or another. But hidden in the European Referendum Bill are plans to scrap purdah.
Just imagine. There will be Government White Papers warning of the calamitous effect a ‘No’ vote would have on the economy and how it would imperil the country.
The British state, in cahoots with the Brussels machine, will be able to fix the vote in its favour. This is unacceptable. There are absolutely no grounds to get rid of purdah, especially for a referendum of such fundamental importance.
Britain is approaching a crossroads. This is our first chance to make a fundamental choice about our future in a debate on EU membership since 1975.
We thought we were signing up for a common market, but in fact signed up for political union – this has soured our relations with the EU ever since.
Warning: The British state, in cahoots with the Brussels machine, will be able to fix the vote in its favour (pictured: David Cameron high five-ing EU President Jean-Claude Juncker
Now we risk making a bigger mistake. Suspension of purdah will allow millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to be thrown into the campaign at the last minute, swamping the ‘No’ side. It will leave a bitter taste to those who hold democracy dear.
On Tuesday, we are set to debate the EU Referendum Bill. At last, the public will get their say over whether they want to be part of a European market or a European political union.
But it should not be passed without the accepted purdah safeguards. Purdah has been a standard part of all recent referendums and plans to remove it strike at the heart of our political system.