UK Politics

UK will not switch to Sunday voting, MPs told

Voter entering polling station
Image caption In the UK polling is held on a Thursday but many European countries vote on a Sunday

The government has stressed that the UK will not be shifting its traditional voting day from Thursday to Sunday, despite media reports.

Europe Minister David Lidington told MPs the "suggestion" from the European Commission that all EU states should vote on the same day was "unhelpful".

A key problem in holding elections on weekends was the impact on different faith groups, he told MPs.

Thursday has been the traditional day for UK general elections since 1931.

Local elections are usually held on the first Thursday in May and European elections are usually held on the same day in the UK - although, across Europe, many countries hold elections to the European Parliament on a Sunday.

'Non-binding'

The next set are due to be held from Thursday 22 May to Sunday 25 May.

A European Commission paper on preparing for the 2014 European elections suggested a common voting day across Europe might help increase voter turnout - but the government says it would in fact, "achieve the opposite".

Mr Lidington told MPs on Tuesday that the proposals "do not carry legal weight" and were simply "non-binding suggestions to member states". He added that any hypothetical future move to make them binding would require the unanimous backing of EU states.

He noted that the recommendations published in March had attracted media attention, but said it was "not the case" that the EU intended to force the UK to hold elections on a Sunday.

That, he said, would be "detrimental to electoral diversity across the EU".

Conservative MP Mark Field suggested a weekend election might be more convenient - and would save having to move the local elections next year from the first Thursday in May to 22 May.

But DUP MP Jim Shannon said faith groups should be consulted if there was any move to change from Thursdays "and certainly not on a Sunday".

Mr Lidington said that was "one of the key problems". "To pick any day over the weekend from Friday to Sunday would inevitably begin to trespass on the religious practices of faith groups in various parts of the United Kingdom," he said.

Labour's Kelvin Hopkins suggested Saturdays could "avoid religious complications" but Mr Lidington told him: "The problem with Saturday is, first, that a number of Jewish communities would find it difficult and, further, that we would still be left with the problem of asking people to count votes and declare results on the Sunday, which would present a difficulty for a number of Christian denominations."

The idea of moving elections from Thursdays, to fit in with working people's busy lives and try to boost turnout, was also floated under Labour.

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