EU referendum: Europe minister defends Government leaflets as Tory MPs brand them an 'insult to electors'

David Cameron has faced calls to include the opposing argument in the taxpayer-funded information campaign

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Monday 11 April 2016 21:18 BST
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David Lidington MP, the Minister for Europe, has defended the campaign
David Lidington MP, the Minister for Europe, has defended the campaign

The Government would be letting voters down if it failed to explain why it backs staying in the EU, the Europe minister has said, as Tory MPs branded a £9.3m information campaign an “insult to electors”.

Leave campaigners have reacted with outrage to the campaign, and more than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for the leaflets to be stopped, amid claims that the Government is using taxpayers’ money to gain an unfair advantage in the EU referendum debate.

Defending the campaign, Europe minister David Lidington told MPs that the Government would be “abrogating its responsibility” if it did not set out its reasons for opposing Brexit.

“Whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU is a huge decision for this country…it is right that people have the facts in front of them and understand the reason for the Government’s recommendation before they go to the polls,” he said.

David Cameron faced calls to include the opposing argument in the taxpayer-funded information campaign. Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who is campaigning for Brexit, has written to the Prime Minister urging him to consider “correcting the balance” in the debate.

However, Mr Lidington said that the official campaign groups on both sides of the debate would have their own leaflet deliveries funded by public money, and both sides of the debate would also be reflected in an information leaflet distributed by the Electoral Commission.

But he drew laughs from Eurosceptic MPs when he maintained that the EU debate should be remain “based on facts”.

Mr Fox claimed that the leaflet contained “opinions not facts”. He compared to the intelligence report that preceded the Iraq War, branding it “dodgy dossier the sequel”.

“Not only is it a waste of public money but in effectively doubling the Remain campaign’s budget the Government has betrayed any sense of fairness in the process of the referendum,” he said.

Nigel Adams, the Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty, meanwhile, joked that he regretted the leaflet had been published on “shiny glossy paper” and “not something more absorbent” so that his constituents could “put it to good use”.

Labour’s shadow Europe minister Pat Glass, said it was “perfectly reasonable” for the Government to set out its position to voters.

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