Cabinet ministers are quietly backing the Tory revolt over the terms of the planned EU referendum, a leading rebel has claimed.
Owen Paterson, who was dropped from the Cabinet by David Cameron last year, has urged the Prime Minister to back down before Tuesday’s vote in the Commons, which could result in one of the biggest Tory revolts since John Major’s government was torn apart by a row over Europe 20 years ago.
The rebels say the impending referendum on Europe should be preceded by a 28-day “purdah” during which the Civil Service would be neutral and other rules would apply as in a general election campaign. Otherwise, Mr Paterson claimed, the referendum will be seen as unfairly loaded in favour of the Yes campaign.
He was backed by the SNP’s Alex Salmond, who is favour of staying in the EU but who warned that people would be “extraordinarily concerned” if the Government did not impose a period of purdah. He also argued against holding the referendum on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies.
“I’m pro-European to my fingerprints but I don’t think Government should try to use the Civil Service machine during a campaign, ” he told BBC Five Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.