EU Referendum

EU referendum: PM 'makes no apology' for £9m EU leaflets

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Media caption'No apology' from Mr Cameron for EU leaflets

David Cameron has defended a government pro-EU membership campaign, amid criticism that £9m of public money is being spent on "one-sided propaganda".

The PM said the government was "not neutral" in the referendum and the cost was "money well spent".

The 16-page leaflets will be sent to 27 million UK homes from next week.

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said it was "outrageous" to spend taxpayers' money "to tell us how we should think and how we should vote".

Leave campaigners complained that the promotional campaign was costing more than the £7m each side will be allowed to spend by law, once the official campaign period starts next week.

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"I would have thought one of the very reasons for the establishment of an Electoral Commission was that the ground rules in this referendum were supposed to be free and fair," Mr Farage said.

But in a speech to students and young people in Exeter, Mr Cameron said: "I make no apology for the fact that we are sending to every household in this country this leaflet, which sets out what the government's view is and why we come to that view.

"We're not neutral in this. We think it would be a bad decision to leave - for the economy, jobs, investment, family finances and universities."

Challenged over whether he thought the campaign was "undemocratic", the PM said: "I absolutely don't think it is."

He said the official Leave and Remain camps would each be entitled to spend £7m and receive a free postal leaflet in the formal campaign period running up to polling day, adding: "There's nothing to stop the government from setting out its views in advance of the campaign."

Mr Cameron said he wanted every voter to have "all the information at their fingertips" when they go to vote: "I think that is money well spent. It is not... just legal, it is necessary and right."

'Not the facts'

Justice Secretary Michael Gove - one of a group of cabinet ministers backing EU exit - said it was wrong to spend taxpayers' money on "a one-sided piece of propaganda", saying the money should have gone on public services instead.

Eurosceptic MPs have long feared that ministers would try to sway the outcome of Britain's referendum on EU membership, on 23 June, by using the full weight of the civil service machine to push the case for staying in.

They had managed to get ministers to agree to limiting government propaganda in the weeks running up to the polling day.

But the leaflets, bearing the official HM government stamp but not the face of David Cameron or any other ministers, are due to start landing on doormats in England next week, with the rest of the UK to follow.

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Media captionBBC Reality Check's Anthony Reuben fact-checks the government's leaflet

The leaflet claims that a vote to leave the EU would cause an economic shock that "would risk higher prices of some household goods and damage living standards".

It further claims that the only way to "protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK's economy" is by staying in the EU, arguing that leaving would create risk and uncertainty.

Reality Check: Checking claims in the government leaflet

Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who chairs pro-exit campaign group Vote Leave, said: "This is not the facts, it is a misleading government propaganda campaign paid for by hard-working taxpayers who would rather see their money spent on their priorities."

She said the public wanted "an honest debate" not "an attempt by the prime minister to buy the referendum result" with taxpayers' money.

London Mayor Boris Johnson - a prominent figure in the exit campaign - claimed it showed the government did not want "a fair fight" while the Conservative former minister Liam Fox, who plans to launch an online petition to secure a debate in Parliament on the issue, said the government was effectively "doubling the funding for one side - ie the Remain campaign."

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Image caption Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the government had done nothing wrong

Defending the leaflet, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "We're entitled as the democratically elected government to set out our view, as government have done in every referendum we've had going all the away back to the original Europe referendum back in 1975."

He said 80% of the British public wanted more information about the referendum and the government was "giving the facts and the government's judgement to go with these facts".

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Media captionBoris Johnson criticises "crazy" EU leaflets

Royal Mail will start delivering the leaflets - entitled Why the Government Believes That Voting to Remain in the EU is the Best Decision for the UK - to households in England next week and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the 5 May devolved elections.

A digital version is being advertised on social media and on a new website. The government says the campaign will cost £9.3m, or about 34p per household.

Households have also been receiving leaflets from EU exit campaigners which also purport to set out the facts of the referendum debate, although these are paid for by the campaigns themselves, rather than taxpayers' money.

Although the internet and social media are tools widely used by both sides of the referendum to spread their message, traditional methods - such as delivering leaflets to homes - still play a key role in the campaigns.

A petition to stop the government's leaflet campaign, launched by the Get Britain Out group on the government's e-Petitions site, has attracted more than 60,000 signatures - it needs 100,000 to be considered for a debate in Parliament.

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