Cameron faces Commons rebellion as 50 Tory MPs demand change to EU referendum rules

Rebels argue referendum will be seen to be rigged if rules aren’t changed

After just five weeks, David Cameron’s new government looks set to suffer an embarrassing rebellion, with as many as 50 Conservative MPs defying the Prime Minister to force changes to rules surrounding the EU referendum.

The rebelling MPs could also gain Commons support from Labour and the SNP, strengthening their position and giving Cameron greater difficulty in winning them round.

The rebels request the government changes rules that would allow it to publish pro-EU documents in the build-up to the referendum.

Instead, the rebels argue, there should be a month-long period of “purdah”, before the referendum, during which neither side can push out reports and documents supporting or condemning the EU. This they say, will mean it is fair, and that the public will accept the results.

In addition, they demand the referendum be held separately from all other elections.

Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman has already attacked the government’s position at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, demanding a list of the pro-EU publications it planned to release in the 28 days to polling day.

Rebel Tories include former cabinet members Liam Fox and Owen Patterson, as well as Sir William Cash, who led rebel Tory MPs against John Major over the Maastricht Treaty.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Cash said he was “confident” that the rebels have the numbers required to get their way.

Meanwhile, on the BBC, Patterson said: “This is a heartfelt plea to the Government. If it is seen to be rigged, if the British people don’t think it’s fair, then whatever the result it won’t be seen to be legitimate and this whole issue will fester further.

“Purdah is crucial, purdah means the government cannot use agencies of the state to spend money or send information to citizens in a period leading up to an election.”

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