EU referendum: Tory MP claims most party members will vote to leave

Bernard Jenkin said rules over neutrality during referendum campaign should apply to Conservative party HQ as well as the Government

Matt Dathan
Tuesday 08 September 2015 10:29 BST
The Out campaign will try to portray its stance as a positive vote for a trading relationship with the EU (Getty)
The Out campaign will try to portray its stance as a positive vote for a trading relationship with the EU (Getty)

Most Conservative party members will vote to leave the European Union, one of the party's leading Eurosceptic MPs has predicted.

Bernard Jenkin, who led the backbench rebellion to inflict the first defeat on David Cameron of the new Parliament over impartiality rules governing the EU referendum, called for the Conservative party's central office to remain neutral during the campaign.

He said more than half of Conservative party members would vote 'Out' in the referendum but warned fellow Eurosceptics that the odds were "stacked" against the 'Out' campaign because of the the financial and institutional might of the EU and pro-Brussels parties in the UK.

Bernard Jenkin, one of the 37 Tory MPs who rebelled against the Government over purdah rules on Monday evening

Last night 37 Conservative MPs rebelled against plans by ministers to amend so-called 'purdah' rules that apply in the run-up to a referendum or election and imposes a ban on promotional material produced by central and local government that could affect how people vote.

Mr Jenkin told the Today programme: “Let’s not have any illusions here. The whole thing is very much still stacked in favour of staying in the European Union.

"The EU is completely untouchable because you can't legislate, without leaving the EU, to control the EU in our own country because they operate according to EU law which overrules our own law.

"So the EU we know spends millions and millions and millions of pounds promoting itself and they are going to accelerate that in the run-up to the referendum. Then you have got the whole issue of the role of the political parties...all the main political parties of course look as though their leaders want them to be in the 'yes' campaign.

"So the Conservative party will be handing over money; handing over data in a completely uncontrolled way. I'm startled to hear that this is in the minds of people at central office - that party data should be used in this way."

David Cameron has pledged to achieve real reform of the EU before putting it to voters

Mr Jenkin added: “In my view the Conservative party is divided on the European question and therefore should be neutral. The Conservative party central office should not be used as a campaigning instrument in the referendum.

“It’s a matter of consent of the members. I hazard a guess but most Conservative party members will be voting to leave the EU in this referendum ... I have little doubt about that.”

He also accused the BBC of being too pro-EU in its coverage and claimed the broadcaster was guilty of "cultural and unintentional bias".

"You know the history of the BBC's coverage of the European Union question," he told Today presenter JimNaughtie. "There was the report commissioned in 2005 under the chairmanship of Lord Wilson of Dinton, the former cabinet secretary, that found that, and I quote: 'We have found there is widespread perception that the BBC suffers from certain forms of cultural and unintentional bias'.

"The BBC governor has accepted that and we know that. The Today programme basically got the presentation of the Euro wrong.

"We know that that has now been accepted. This is an important point because every morning we have somebody on the Today programme from business and they are always asked the question: 'Do you think you should stay in the EU? How would that [affect] your business?' But you tend to choose people from a certain sector of business who are going to say what they think the establishment wants to hear...

"This is an important issue I hope you address it in a future programme."

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