There is the 'potential for confusion as a diverse range of issues is presented to the electorate'
The secretary of state for Wales has dismissed concerns about a potential referendum on EU membership overshadowing the elections to the devolved bodies. as ‘a bit of silliness’.
With suggestions that a vote could take place as early as 23 June, concerns are growing that the EU vote could overshadow campaigning for elections to Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont just a matter of weeks before.
In a joint letter to the prime minister, the leaders of the 4 political parties in the Welsh Assembly, including Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, have called for the UK government to rule out a June referendum. The letter said:
“Your re-negotiation of the United Kingdom’s EU membership, and the subsequent referendum, will present the public with a serious choice about the future of their society. A June referendum date would mean that the campaigning period for the referendum would overlap with the campaigning for the May elections to our National Assembly.
“The simultaneous existence of multiple party political campaigns and EU referendum campaigns would in itself pose practical and logistical difficulties, but the greater problem that we anticipate is the potential for confusion as a diverse range of issues is presented to the electorate.
“This is not just a matter of respecting the integrity of the Welsh electoral debate, but of affording the EU referendum campaign the respect it deserves.”
The Welsh letter came shortly after a similar plea from Nicola Sturgeon. Speaking to the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday, the first minister of Scotland explained that it would be a ‘mistake’ to hold the vote in June. She said:
“One, you might interpret as being you know a bit selfish. The Scottish election is in May, indeed the Welsh, the Northern Irish, London elections in May. I think to have a referendum campaign starting in parallel would be disrespectful to those important elections.”
But the concerns have been dismissed by the Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb. Speaking after a speech he delivered on the EU, he told the BBC:
“I think there’s a bit of silliness going on here.
“I think people in Wales are well able to handle debates about different issues in roughly the same time period, and I think it will be a good debate when it comes.”
In his speech to the Cardiff Business Club Crabb, tipped by some as the next generation choice to replace David Cameron, outlined the case for Wales and the UK remaining in a reformed EU, despite admitting that he was not ‘a bought-and-paid-for member of the EU fan club’.
He argued that the campaign to stay in the EU will be won from the centre ground which he dubbed ‘a place of both pragmatism and principle’, continuing:
“If the prime minister gets the renegotiation then I will be out there making the case for Britain to remain in the European Union… making a strong and pragmatic case, not based on wild and flimsy arguments.
“But based on a clear-sighted and hard-headed assessment of the risks and opportunities of both outcomes.
“And I believe it will be the reformers who will carry the day – the reformers who come from a position of pragmatic scepticism.”
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter
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