Last week the government announced its intention to spend £9.3 million sending a leaflet to every household in the country explaining why they believe that it is better for Britain to remain a member of the European Union.
The EU debate is at the heart of our politics at the moment. Thanks to the all-encompassing tentacles of the European Union playing a part in every part of our governance, Parliament has all but ground to a halt until the British people make their decision as to whether we should remain or leave and take back control of our own affairs.
I’m disappointed that the government has decided to use taxpayers’ money to unfairly promote one side of the argument in a document that has been prepared with the assistance of the supposedly neutral civil service. A document that is essentially reading from the Britain Stronger in Europe playbook. This is not the way to conduct a free and fair referendum in the eyes of the British public.
If there’s one thing British people have, it’s a strong sense of fair play. We believe in a level playing field, where everyone has the chance to make their case under equitable circumstances. That is why, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, spending limits were put in place. It is these spending limits that will restrict both official campaigns in the referendum to spending £7 million during the course of the official referendum period.
By spending this money, the government has trampled on these limits and given the remain side an advantage that would be outside even the most basic realms of possibility under the spending limits, as the bill for this one piece of campaign literature soars above the amount that either side is allowed to spend in total during the campaign.
I raised this with the Europe Minister David Lidington, following his statement to the Commons yesterday. I questioned whether during the AV referendum in 2011 the government had produced a similar document. He responded that they hadn’t, as the government was not united behind one side of the argument.
I would argue now, with five cabinet members and nearly half of the Conservative Parliamentary Party backing leave, this was a provocative and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money which tarnishes the remain side and puts an unpleasant, unfair slant on this entire campaign. Don’t forget, to vote in the referendum, you have to be registered by June 7.