In early April 2016 the UK government announced that it would be spending £9m on producing a leaflet to all households in the UK laying out its position that the UK should remain in the EU. Immediately the Leave campaign cried foul and demanded that either the government remain neutral or that it be included as part of the (capped) spending of the Remain campaign. Liam Fox even said he would be sending his straight back to 10 Downing Street and advocated that everyone else do the same. There is now a parliamentary petition (currently at 170,000) demanding it be withdrawn.
The electoral commission issued this statement:
For some considerable time, pro-Brexit press has been stirring up stories, most concocted or scaremongering, to turn its readership against the EU. Many of these stories are reported on national TV and in “newspaper reviews” on the BBC and Sky News. Many of the journalists or editors responsible for these stories appear on these reviews or on panel programmes such as BBC’s Question Time or Any Questions. The pro-Brexit camp gets a considerable amount of free propaganda from this in addition to their almost five to one advantage in their circulation compared to pro-Remain papers.
However, in recent months on both paper reviews and from the Question Time audience there has been a constant plea of “we need more information before we can decide”. In many cases these have been rather disingenuous in that the person saying so seems to be Eurosceptic but says they want to hear the case to stay in.
Now that the government is issuing this leaflet, suddenly they don’t want it. The government, in articulating the 50 year old settled position of UK governments, is “biased” and “can’t be trusted”. Yet the front pages of the Mail, Express, Sun, Star and (often) Telegraph and Times are to be trusted, run by rich media moguls who largely live outside the UK and don’t have to live with the consequences of Brexit. £9m is a paltry sum compared to the free advertising given to the Leave campaign by these editors.
Remember we elect governments to uphold the national interest, that includes negotiating and enacting international agreements such as being members of international organisations that allow us to do things we could not do on our own. Since the 1966 Wilson government it has been the settled policy of all UK governments for the UK to be a member of the EEC and then EU. It does this because it believes we’ll be more prosperous and secure as a result, not because it is part of some nefarious plan to bring about a tyrannical European superstate. Providing some information to the electorate in support of that position is what responsible governments do (and has done on other important matters such as AIDS, Climate Change, nuclear protection, the NHS etc).
The claims in the leaflet have been checked by Infacts.Org (sure, it does have a pro-Remain agenda but is trying to ensure claims made by both sides can be verified). It has produced this report summarising the claims versus the evidence. The BBC has also checked it against evidence, though in my view its analysis is rather imbalanced towards the Leave: it cites Dearlove for arguing Brexit will make us more secure but says nothing about the many generals, security chiefs, NATO etc who argue the opposite).
My own view is that the public has a vast amount of material available from both sides and from neutral sources on the implications of Brexit. Almost all show that the economic case for Brexit is largely negative. However, the arguments are complex and the public deserve to have a summary from the government making the case for Remain, which is the government’s policy unless and until the referendum changes it. In 1975 the government issued its own leaflet in addition to the Yes and No leaflets (these are available on the web) so this is consistent with that. If pro-Leave proponents don’t want it or believe it is misleading then they can put it in the bin. The Europhobic press will continue to put lies, myths and misrepresentations on their front pages for free. Who’s going to challenge their claims?
Of course, what Leave is actually doing is lining up it’s “stabbed in the back” excuses should they lose, claiming, as they have done since 1975, that the public was lied to and Remain had an unfair advantage. That enables their “neverendum” strategy to be revealed and they’ll keep demanding referendums until we leave. If Cameron thought a referendum would “settle the question” he’ll be wrong, at least if the outcome is Remain. If it’s “Leave” expect to be bombarded with “we did tell you so” for decades to come.
Liam Fox may well return his to 10 Downing Street. On the same day he said he would do that, I received a leaflet from the EFDD group of the EU parliament produced by UKIP advocating the Leave position. Presumably that was funded by the EU taxpayer. It is full of lies, myths, strawman arguments and other misrepresentations. I have sent it to Liam Fox.