Northern Ireland

DUP motion on timing of EU referendum defeated

DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds will lead the debate at Westminster
Image caption DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds lead the debate at Westminster

A DUP motion, that expressed concerns that an EU referendum in June would be too close to the Northern Ireland Assembly election, has been defeated at Westminster.

The DUP's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, appealed to the government to respect the wishes of the devolved administrations and postpone it.

Speaking at a House of Commons debate on the issue he said: "It needs to be treated with the respect it deserves."

The motion was defeated by 286 to 70.

The first ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all outlined their opposition to the referendum being held in late June.

Nicola Sturgeon, Carwyn Jones and Arlene Foster have written to the prime minister to urge him to defer the date.

They said a June date will "confuse" the process and make it hard for them to campaign effectively in the referendum.

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Image caption David Cameron has pledged to hold the referendum by the end of 2017

David Cameron has said he believes voters will be able to differentiate between polls.

Speaking at the debate on Tuesday, Mr Dodds said: "We hear a lot about the respect agenda and about taking on board the views of the administrations in the devolved countries of the UK and this now needs to be put into practice.

"This is a very, very important moment, I think, in this parliament as to how the government will actually respect the devolved administrations."

Mr Dodds said the national debate about Europe should "not impinge on other elections due to take place this year, including to the Scottish Parliament as well as the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies".

MPs from the SDLP, UUP and other representatives from across the House also took part in the debate.

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Image caption Mr Cameron is reported to favour a poll on 23 June this year

Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, who is in favour of the UK staying within the EU, nonetheless shared the DUP's desire for a delay.

"I think it would be very helpful if the prime minister could confirm that he will come to Northern Ireland to campaign, but will do so after the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, not before."

Danny Kinahan of the UUP, describing himself as a sci-fi fan, compared the uncertainty over the referendum to an episode of Dr Who.

"It's like we're trying to make a decision and all those that want to leave are charging into the Tardis, which, if you remember didn't know whether it was going backwards or forwards or where it was going to land or anywhere else we are going into the unknown.

"I want the electorate to know what they are voting for."

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie said a period of purdah from March to June is undemocratic, because "it prevents ministers, it prevents MPs and it prevents members of devolved administrations from properly representing their constituents".

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