The British government is set to spend more than £9 million of tax payer cash posting a leaflet setting out its pro-EU position to every home in the United Kingdom ahead of the referendum on European Union (EU) membership in June. The figure far outstrips the official spending limits for the Leave and Remain camps, leading to furious accusations of a “stitch-up” from prominent Leave campaigners.
The officially designated Leave and Remain campaigns will be able to spend up to £7 million each on advertising and promotional materials once the official campaigning period kicks in next week, including a public grant of £600,000 for a free mail-shot and television broadcasts.
But the 14-page document, snappily titled “Why the Government Believes That Voting to Remain in the EU is the Best Decision for the UK” will start to be delivered by Royal Mail in England next week. Households in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive theirs after the 5 May devolved elections. At a cost of 34p per household, the mail-shot will cost taxpayers about £9.3 million.
It has also been made available online.
The leaflet, which features plain text and stock images, repeats claims that “over three million UK jobs are linked to exports to the EU” and that “if the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would risk higher prices of some household goods” – claims which have been hotly disputed by Leave campaigners.
The government insists it is merely responding to public calls for more information on the subject, but the Electoral Reform Society have accused them of “playing fast and loose with the situation”.
Leave campaigners have also decried the move.
“Why is the government spending £10 million of our money telling us what we should think and what we should do?” asked UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.
“This is very much like what happened in 1975, legally it is questionable and morally it is wrong. It was wrong in 1975 and it is wrong now,” he said.
“This government scam confirms my view that this referendum will be defined by the battle of the people versus the political class.
“Furthermore, the document is jammed full of lies and inaccuracies including the claim that we currently control our borders. We don’t. It is outrageous to suggest otherwise.”
Liz Bilney, CEO of the Leave.EU campaign added: “David Cameron is discrediting the referendum process with his taxpayer-funded dodgy dossier.
She questioned the legitimacy of granting the Remain campaign two national mailshots while the Leave campaign has only one, saying “This is supposed to be an equal contest.”
She added: “The Prime Minister, who knows he has a weak case and repeatedly resorts to scaremongering, is trying to load his gloves. He is ruining Brand Cameron, ruining the reputation of British democracy and putting the legitimacy of the final result at great risk.”
Conservative MP Peter Bone, from Grassroots Out agreed, saying the mailshot was a “major error of judgement” by Mr Cameron.
“The prime minister promised Parliament that no taxpayers’ money would be spent promoting Remain or Leave,” he said.
“What is being done is immoral, undemocratic and against what the government has promised. If this is not reversed it will seriously damage the prime minister’s reputation.”