EU leaflet row: Petition against £9m pro-EU campaign passes 100,000 signatures amid Tory in-fighting

Michael Gove has called the government leaflets 'propaganda' but David Cameron says he will make 'no apology' for them

Katie Forster
Monday 13 June 2016 12:50 BST
David Cameron addresses students at Exeter University
David Cameron addresses students at Exeter University (Reuters)

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Louise Thomas

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More than 100,000 people have signed a petition against the government’s £9m pro-EU leaflet campaign.

The 16-page leaflet, which is funded by taxpayers and due to be delivered to 27 million households from next week, outlines the Government’s position on the effect of a potential Brexit.

In a speech to students in Exeter yesterday, David Cameron said he would make “no apology” for the fact that the government has a strong view on the issue, calling the decision to publish the leaflets “legal, necessary and right”.

But Eurosceptic campaigner Jayne Adye, who started the online petition last December, told The Independent that the use of Government money gave the campaign to remain in the EU an unfair advantage.

Now that the petition has reached 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in parliament.

The leaflet row has split Conservative ministers on either side of the argument over whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have criticised the distribution of the leaflet, which Mr Gove described as a “one-sided piece of propaganda.” Mr Johnson called it “a waste of money” and “hysterical”.

And former Tory minister Liam Fox said he plans to launch his own online petition to make sure the Parliament debate on the issue goes ahead.

However, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the leaflets were in response to a call for more information from the public - a Government survey found that 80% of people wanted more information on the referendum.

In his speech, the Prime Minister referred to similar tactics used by past governments: “That’s what we did in 1975, when we last had a referendum. It’s what the government has done in the Scottish referendum, the Welsh referendum, and other referendums we’ve had,” he said.

The controversial leaflets cost £458,000 to create and £5.9m to print and distribute in two waves, equating to 34p per person.

This is more than the £7m allowed to be spent by the Remain and Leave campaigns, who are also able to send their own freepost leaflets.

The Government leaflets claim that leaving the EU would cause an “economic shock” to the country, with more than three million jobs at risk.

They also warn that a Brexit could result in fewer cheap flights, higher mobile roaming charges and expensive health care for holidaymakers in future.

Ms Adye attacked the “biased information” in the leaflet. “We think it is an abuse of the taxpayer’s money. If it came out of his pocket it would be different, but it’s coming out of our pocket,” she said.

The leaflets will be sent out before “purdah”, the pre-election period which limits government activity in the 28 days before the vote on 23 June, comes into force.

Last September, the government was defeated over proposed changes to the purdah rules.

Ahead of the 1975 referendum, Prime Minister Harold Wilson issued a similar leaflet to every British household, setting out an “independent” government analysis of his renegotiation, alongside the pro- and anti- campaign literature.

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