EU leaflet delivery sparks furious row

A row has broken out after it was reported that the Government would spend £9 million on sending leaflets to every household in the UK setting out the case for remaining in the European Union. Brexit campaigners have reacted furiously to taxpayers’ money being used to try and sway public opinion. But the Government has defended the move by saying that the British people need to be informed about the key facts surrounding the debate. With David Cameron’s future as Prime Minister riding on the outcome of the referendum, it is unsurprising that he is willing to use all the levers of power at his disposal to secure Britain’s place in the EU. However, there are inherent risks to mobilising the state machinery to influence voters. In the eyes of some, spending £9 million on a mass mail drop compromises the fairness of the vote, particularly as the expenditure comes just before spending restrictions on the designated Leave and Remain campaigns are due to come into force. From next week both camps will be able to spend no more than £7 million each on advertising and promotion in the run-up to the referendum on June 23.

Against that backdrop, David Cameron is also in danger of being portrayed as the prime orchestrator of an establishment stitch-up. Indeed, UKIP’s Nigel Farage has already sought to frame the whole question of Britain’s membership of the EU as a battle of the people against the political elite. But it is not just his political opponents that Mr Cameron needs to worry about. Eurosceptic MPs from his own party will be angered by his use of public funds. There have already been murmurings on the backbenches that if the Government manages to clinch victory in the EU referendum by the narrowest of margins it will be because Mr Cameron has been able to leverage the resources of the state to his advantage. Under such a scenario, it is said he may be faced with a mutiny. So while the leaflet drop might make sense for now, such moves undoubtedly put the longer term unity of his party in jeopardy.

Chris Warne

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search