BRUSSELS: Any relaxation of so-called purdah rules in the run-up to the referendum on EU membership would be “completely unacceptable”, MPs have said.
The Public Administration Committee said it was unconvinced by ministers’ arguments it was needed to allow them to continue the work of government.
In a critical report, it said such a move would “cast a shadow of doubt over the propriety” of the referendum.
More than 20 Conservative MPs rebelled over the issue in a vote last month.
David Cameron has said a referendum will be held before the end of 2017 on the UK’s future place in Europe following a renegotiation of the existing terms of British membership.
As part of a bill paving the way for the referendum, ministers are seeking to “disapply” aspects of a law which, since 2000, has stipulated what announcements the government can make in the 28 days leading up to a referendum.
They argue that leaving the restrictions in place would prevent ministers from commenting on the outcomes of European Council meetings or legal judgements by European institutions, effectively harming the conduct of government.
David Cameron has also said that once the government has agreed the outcome of the renegotiating process, it will not remain neutral on whether the UK should remain in the EU.
But Conservative eurosceptics say this could allow the machinery of government to be used to press the case for the UK to remain within the European Union and compromise the referendum.