EU vote will be fair, says Osborne

Published: Tuesday 16th June 2015 by The News Editor

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George Osborne has claimed ministers will ensure there is not an “unfair referendum” over Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The Chancellor said changes will be brought forward to ensure the Government “doesn’t engage in mass communication with the electorate”, amid concerns over public funds being used for a publicity drive in favour of a yes vote in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Speaking in the Commons, Conservative backbencher James Gray (North Wiltshire) asked Mr Osborne if he agreed it is “extremely important” for reports on the issue by the Bank of England, Government departments and other organisations to be published in the next two years.

Mr Gray added: ” But would you not agree with me that it’s vitally important that these documents, which may well affect the outcome of the referendum, should not be published in the so-called purdah period of six to eight weeks before the referendum itself?”

The Chancellor replied: “As was made clear by in the debate and by the Prime Minister from this despatch box, there are serious issues which we have to address about the current law as it stands around referendums, and w e believe it would make unworkable and inappropriate the debate on the European Union.

“Now, we of course have understood the concerns on all sides of the House about this and we will come forward with reassurances that enable the proper business of Government to continue and the Government to make the case for the outcome that is achieved and the vote it recommends, but make sure there isn’t an unfair referendum and that the Government doesn’t engage in mass communication with the electorate.

“Those are the things that are going to be discussed, I know, later today.”

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood asked the Chancellor to press the Bank of England to publish full details of Project Bookend.

She told Mr Osborne: ” The debate and conduct of the referendum campaign must be – and be seen to be – both legitimate and well informed.

“So will you, as you’ve failed to do thus far this morning, make clear today that you agree that in the interests of transparency the Bank of England should publish full details of their risk assessment, codenamed Project Bookend, its terms of reference, its personnel and timetable, and will you add your voice to our call that any publication of this report must happen well in advance of the vote?”

Mr Osborne replied: “This is not for me or, dare I say, even you to tell an independent Bank of England what to do.

“I will have no doubt they will engage in this debate. Indeed the governor of the Bank of England has made that perfectly clear.

“I’ve no doubt the Treasury Select Committee, when it’s formed, will want to ask the Bank of England questions about the European Union because it’s central to many of their responsibilities.

“But as a I say, we have an independent central bank and I propose to keep it that way.”

Ms Mahmood also questioned if reports on the economic impact of the UK leaving the EU will be commissioned and published by the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

She told the Chancellor: “Still no clear answer from the Chancellor I think and no commitment to pushing for the transparency that this debate demands because you have a clear responsibility and a role to play in ensuring the economic impacts are debated and fully understood.

“Now, I know you have your mind on other things these days – like moving next door to Number 10 – but if you will do nothing further on Project Bookend will you at least step up and lead this debate by agreeing to commission and publish reports by the Treasury and the OBR into the economic impact of the UK leaving the EU?”

Mr Osborne said he was sure the Treasury would publish assessments of the “merits of membership and the risks of a lack of reform in the European Union and the damage that could do to Britain’s interests”.

Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s economy spokesman, asked for the “daft” referendum to be dropped.

He told Mr Osborne: ” Is it not the case that however bad the negotiations, you will declare them a success and however good the negotiations the out at any cost brigade will declare them an unmitigated disaster.

“Is the truth not that instead of pandering to this Ukip agenda, the Government should simply pull the whole idea of this daft referendum?”

Mr Osborne replied: “I don’t want to say this to the SNP spokesman but I’m not sure you’re speaking for Scotland because 58% of Scots want a referendum and 63% of SNP supporters want a referendum, so you need to get in touch with your grassroots.”

Published: Tuesday 16th June 2015 by The News Editor

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