One hundred thousand people have signed an overnight petition demanding the government halts plans to spend £9 million of tax payers’ money sending pro-European Union (EU) leaflets to every home in the country.
Critics have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of abusing the government’s power to send out “biased and hysterical” propaganda ahead of June’s referendum. The government claims, though, that similar literature was sent out before the 1975 referendum, and that legal spending limits only apply during the official campaign period.
However, a petition calling on the government to stop sending the 16-page leaflets has now been signed by seventy thousand people.
As it is hosted on the official government website, and received over 10,000 signatures, the government was obliged to issue a statement in response. The statement said: “The EU Referendum Act 2015 commits the Government to provide information to the public on EU membership ahead of the vote, and that is what we will do.”
The response has only encouraged more people to sign, and since the petition has reached 100,000 signatures parliament will have to consider holding a debate on the issue.
London Mayor Boris Johnson called the leaflets “biased and hysterical” and a “complete waste of money”.
“If you are going to use taxpayers’ money you should allow people to put the other side of the case as well,” he said.
Peter Bone of the Grassroots Out campaign agreed, saying: “This is an outrageous way to spend hard-working tax payers’ money.
“Many recent polls have shown that the majority of the UK public are actually in favour of leaving the EU so to spend their money on a pro-EU propaganda exercise is an inexcusable waste.
“This is a major error of judgement given the lack of funding for vital public services.”
The government is sending the leaflets despite the fact the official “remain” campaign will also get the chance to send its own material to every household ahead of the referendum. This means every home in Britain will receive at least two mail shots for “remain” but potentially only one for “leave”.
The Electoral Reform Society have also hit out at the leaflet, saying it may “undermine faith” in the referendum. Chief Executive Katie Ghose said: “The government may be acting within the rules… but the spirit of a good referendum campaign is to make sure voters get both sides of the argument presented in equal measure to help them make an informed decision.”