The U.K. government will change the wording of the question in its planned referendum on European Union membership after the country’s election watchdog said there could be a “perception of bias” in the original formulation.
The government accepts a recommendation by the Electoral Commission that the question be changed to: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London Tuesday. The options to respond will be “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union.”
Cameron has pledged to renegotiate better EU membership terms for the U.K. and give the British people the final say in a popular vote to be held by the end of 2017. The new formulation may be slightly favorable for the campaign to quit the 28-nation bloc, past polling has suggested.
In the bill that’s been submitted to Parliament, the government had been proposing to ask: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” with the options of “Yes” and “No” answers.
“We will accept the recommendation and table an amendment to the bill,” Bower said.
Polling carried out in May by ComRes gave ‘Yes’ a lead of 58 percent to 31 percent when respondents were asked the ‘Yes/No’ question. A similar-sized sample of voters asked at the same time whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU produced a smaller lead for ‘stay in’ of 51 percent to 33 percent.
Still, the wording of the question is “unlikely to make too much difference” to the final result, ComRes’s head of political polling, Tom Mludzinski, said in a Twitter post.
“Any referendum question must be as clear as possible so that voters understand the important choice they are being asked to make,” Electoral Commission Chair Jenny Watson said in an e-mailed statement earlier Tuesday. “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.”
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who told BBC Radio Tuesday morning that he “will work with absolutely anyone for us to get a ‘No’ vote in this referendum,” welcomed the change.
“I’m in no doubt that the ‘Yes/No’ offering was leading to great confusion and that remain or leave is much clearer,” Farage said in an e-mailed statement. “That combined with a more explicit question is the right direction of travel.”