POLITICS
01/09/2015 06:57 BST | Updated 01/09/2015 09:59 BST

UK's EU Referendum Question Should Be 'Remain Or Leave' Not 'Yes Or No' - Watchdog Says

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage leaves the party's head office in central London on May 15, 2015. A week after an election in which it won the third-biggest share of the national vote but just one seat in parliament, Britain's UK Independence Party is tearing itself apart in spectacular fashion. First there was charismatic party leader Nigel Farage's short-lived resignation, then a big fallout over finances and on May 14 a stunning attack on him from the head of his election cam
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UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage leaves the party's head office in central London on May 15, 2015. A week after an election in which it won the third-biggest share of the national vote but just one seat in parliament, Britain's UK Independence Party is tearing itself apart in spectacular fashion. First there was charismatic party leader Nigel Farage's short-lived resignation, then a big fallout over finances and on May 14 a stunning attack on him from the head of his election cam

Britain's In-Out referendum on the EU should not be a 'Yes' or 'No' question, election watchdogs have recommended.

In what is seen as a big boost to the Eurosceptic 'Brexit' campaign, the Electoral Commission ruled that the question in the referendum should instead be framed to remove any hint of bias to a 'positive' Yes campaign to stay in the 28-nation bloc.

Within minutes of their recommendation, Downing Street said that it would accept the change.

The question currently in the Tory government's legislation for the referendum - which is due by the end of 2017 - asks: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

Ballot papers would have offered a simple 'Yes' or 'No' box to voters.

But following public concern, the Commission has recommended that the question should be amended to: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

It said that voters should be allowed to tick either ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union’ on their ballot paper.

Following No.10's swift adoption of the plan, this is how the ballot paper will now look:

eu referendum

The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said that he had decided that he would adopt their plan swiftly and the current EU referendum bill would be amended when it returns to Parliament on September 7.

"We will accept the Electoral Commission recommendation and we will table an amendment to the bill accordingly," she said.

"The Prime Minister's objective has always been very clear - to give people a very simple, clear choice. And we believe that will still be achieved with the recommendation from the Commission today."

Tory Eurosceptic MEP Dan Hannan welcomed the shift.

And Dominic Cummings, the coordinator of the 'Out' campaign, tweeted that little money had been spent on 'No' logos.

Will Straw, executive director of the In campaign, insisted the question was not as important as the substance of the issue.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission said: “Any referendum question must be as clear as possible so that voters understand the important choice they are being asked to make. We have tested the proposed question with voters and received views from potential campaigners, academics and plain language experts.

‘Whilst voters understood the question in the Bill some campaigners and members of the public feel the wording is not balanced and there was a perception of bias. The alternative question we have recommended addresses this. It is now for Parliament to discuss our advice and decide which question wording should be used."

In the Scottish independence referendum last year, some claimed that the Yes camp won several extra points simply because it had the advantage of a 'positive' message.

Some Eurosceptics have argued that in making the EU questions a Yes/No, David Cameron risked similar bias, this time in persuading voters to remain in the UK.

But others argue that of bigger importance is the whole issue of 'purdah' and the Prime Minister's attempt to suspend usual rules preventing Whitehall being used during a referendum campaign.

Paul Goodman, of ConservativeHome website pointed out how the independent watchdog was worried about bias in all areas.

A source in the Business for Britain campaign told The Huffington Post UK that they were happy to now be part of a 'Leave' campaign rather than a 'No' campaign but purdah rules were still crucial.

Eurosceptics believe the Government, as well as Brussels, will use the full weight of their official machine to distribute leaflets and information to try to persuade Britons to stay in the EU.

No.10 today said that it was continuing to look at the issue of purdah and would include proposals 'shortly'.

However it came under attack from some Tories over reports that Mr Cameron was set to water down his demands for reforms to EU employment rights.

The Financial Times today reported that the Prime Minister was set to abandon any attempt at a full opt-out of employment and social chapter rights.

But Boris Johnson told LBC: "I looked at the headlines this morning about the possibility of Britain dropping its insistence on changes to employment law and I thought that was very disappointing. I think we need to move forward on that."

Mr Hannan pointed out that Mr Cameron had been promising to repatriate employment policy since 2005 and it now appeard that 'even that' had been dropped.

Downing Street said that the report was just 'speculation' but added 'we are not going to give a detailed commentary' on his renegotiation plan.

His official spokeswoman said that the PM had raised in a speech in November 2014 the idea of trying to make more EU migrants have a job offer before coming to the UK and wanted to 'get closer' to that outcome.