It has emerged that the government has spent £9.3 million on taxpayer-funded leaflets, which will be sent to 27 million households across the country next week. The leaflet will urge people to vote to stay in the European Union and Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he will make ‘no apology’ for its contents. However, by making such a move, Cameron has fundamentally undermined the democratic process of the EU referendum.
Cameron has justified this move on the basis that the government supports the In campaign. Thus, he says, the government has every right to print and distribute leaflets that promotes its viewpoint. Nonetheless, Leave campaigners are furious that taxpayers’ money has been used to fund the glossy 16-page document. Millions of pounds are being paid to print and distribute these leaflets, and to market the government’s position online. In response, the Leave campaign is urging voters to send their leaflet back to Downing Street. And rightly so. It is not fair that the In campaign has such a distinct advantage over the Leave campaign.
This leaflet completely undermines the democratic process of the EU referendum. The government is intentionally distributing these leaflets before ‘purdah’ restrictions come into force in England. That is, specifically, the time between an announced election and the final results. This means the government can essentially get away with not being impartial. Surely that should be the government’s position in any referendum? It is up to the people to decide the outcome. As Liam Fox brilliantly put it: ‘It’s rather like the government of the day sending out a propaganda leaflet ahead of a general election - I think we would all regard that as quite outrageous.’ And of course we would, so where is the public outcry over this government-backed move?
During the AV referendum in 2011, the Yes to AV campaign attempted to enlist a whole series of charities to sign up to the ‘People’s Campaign for AV’. The Yes campaign was heavily scrutinised for such a move. Complaints were made to the Charity Commission and, slowly, the charities dropped out of this stunt. Considering the No to AV campaign was spearheaded by Matthew Elliott – who is the mastermind of the Vote Leave campaign – I have no doubt they will quickly exploit this move by the government to their advantage. And who won the AV referendum? The side headed by Matthew Elliott: the No vote.
The government has made yet another catastrophic move in this referendum at a time when the government is unpopular and the Prime Minister under pressure. The pro-EU leaflets are an unacceptable use of taxpayers’ money at a time when the strings on the public purse are tight. Moreover, this move to fund leaflets only pushes the boundaries of acceptability regarding the government’s actions prior to an election. With the results of the Dutch referendum showing an outright rejection of the EU trade deal with Ukraine, let us hope the tide will turn against the EU and that Britain votes to leave on June 23rd.