Sir Edward Leigh says an ‘unfair’ EU referendum campaign, with one side spending much more than the other, could boost support for UKIP.
The MP made the warning in a debate where most MPs voted to lift the ‘purdah’ arrangements which ban campaign spending and announcing anything which could swing the result in the weeks up to voting day.
Sir Edward said people might swing to UKIP as the underdog because the law states public funding is allocated to parties based on their general election vote shares. This is on top of equal amounts given to the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. The Tories can spend £5m on the campaign, Labour £4m, UKIP £3m and the Lib Dems £2m.
Sir Edward said if all the main parties back the UKIP campaign for ‘yes’, the ‘no’ campaign would be outspent by £9m. He tabled an amendment limiting the number of participants in the campaign to ensure equal funding for both sides.
Even if such funding disparities did not affect the result, people may feel such a campaign was unfair, he said.
“If the ‘yes’ result is secured through a massive overspend there is a danger of a UKIP backlash, just as we have seen an SNP backlash, and this tidal wave can overwhelm people. It is essential, therefore, that there is a feeling of fairness,” he told Parliament.