Britain set to change EU referendum question

1st September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron's government is poised to change the question for voters in an upcoming referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The change, which must be approved by parliament, comes after Britain's elections watchdog said the existing question risked favouring campaigners who want to remain part of the EU.

Cameron wants to stay in the EU subject to securing a string of reforms ahead of the referendum, which must take place by the end of 2017 and is expected to be held next year.

Voters are now set to be asked: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

The possible responses would be either: "Remain a member of the European Union" or "Leave the European Union".

The previous wording of the question was: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" -- which would have elicited a "Yes" or "No" answer.

The move came after research among the public by the independent Electoral Commission on the phrasing of the initial question raised "concerns about the potential legitimacy... of the referendum result -- particularly if there was a vote to remain a member of the European Union."

Cameron's spokeswoman said the government would amend the bill currently going through parliament paving the way for the referendum to reflect the change in question.

"We will accept the electoral commission's recommendation and we will table an amendment accordingly," she told reporters.

This will be voted on when the House of Commons next debates the issue on Monday, the first day back after the summer break.

In an indication that the move could favour campaigners who want Britain to leave the EU, it was welcomed by Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

"I'm in no doubt that the Yes/No offering was leading to great confusion and that remain or leave is much clearer," Farage said. "That combined with a more explicit question is the right direction of travel."

Farage is set to launch UKIP's campaign to leave Europe formally on Friday.

Cameron will embark on a fresh round of diplomacy in Portugal and Spain also on Friday as he bids to persuade other European leaders to back changes he wants to Britain's relationship with Europe.

His key demands include restricting access to welfare payments in Britain for migrants from within the EU and opting out of the EU's commitment to ever-closer union.

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© 2015 AFP

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