Has EU referendum been rigged already?
Campaigners for Britain to leave the EU could be outspent by their opponents by £6million, it emerged last night.
Rules signed off by David Cameron mean the ‘Out’ campaign will be able to spend no more than £11million in the critical final weeks of the campaign, while those pushing for Britain to stay in the EU will be allowed to spend £17million – 50 per cent more.
Eurosceptics said last night that the spending limits provided further evidence that the referendum rules are ‘stacked in favour’ of the Government, which is expected to campaign to keep Britain in.
Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an European Union summit in Brussels where he is campaigning for reforms to the EU
The revelation will raise concerns that Mr Cameron, who has barred Eurosceptic ministers from speaking out during the renegotiation, is determined to win at all costs.
It follows claims that the Prime Minister plans to use provisions in the EU Referendum Act to send a dossier of ‘pro-EU’ information to every family in Britain in the run-up to the referendum.
Robert Oxley, of the Vote Leave campaign, said: ‘We know the referendum rules are stacked in favour of the Government and the pro-EU campaign. Despite the imbalance, we are confident that voters will reject project fear and vote to take control.’
Spending limits buried in the EU referendum legislation suggest that the ‘In’ campaign will be able to outgun its opponents by a large margin in the closing stages of the campaign.
The rules are based on limits set in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was pushed through by Tony Blair at the time he was considering a referendum on whether to join the euro. The official ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns will each be allowed to spend £7million during the final ten weeks of the campaign.
But the pro-EU bias among the main parties will allow millions more to be spent by those campaigning to keep Britain in. Labour, which has its own campaign to keep Britain in the EU, led by former home secretary Alan Johnson, has a spending limit of £5.5million. The Lib Dems can spend £3million and the SNP and Greens £700,000 each, taking the total for the ‘In’ side to £16.9million.
The Conservative Party, which would have had a legal spending limit of £7million, has said it will be neutral in the campaign.
The only mainstream party pressing for Britain to leave will be Ukip, which can spend £4million, taking the ‘Out’ side’s total to £11million.
The revelations come on the heels of claims that ministers are preparing a ‘pro- EU’ dossier to distribute to every home.
Legislation allows ministers to send out information to voters on the merits of staying in the EU and the possible risks of leaving.
The information is supposed to be factual. But with Mr Cameron apparently determined to campaign to keep Britain in the EU, Eurosceptics fear it will now become a propaganda exercise.
A Tory source claimed Mr Cameron would use the opportunity to explain ‘the changes [he has negotiated], the benefits of the changes to Britain and why, therefore, we need to stay in the EU’.
Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, said: ‘The renegotiation has boiled down to such a trivial set of demands it’s no wonder the Government are relying on a PR exercise and biased reports to help their case. There is fat chance of such a report remaining independent and honest.
‘With the full weight of government machinery increasingly deployed to keep Britain in the EU at all costs, it’s time those ministers who disagree with this policy are given the opportunity to speak out.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was wrong to claim that the Government had ‘decided to issue any information in the form of a leaflet, or pamphlet, or dossier’. They added: ‘And it’s wrong secondly in the suggestion that any information will be pro-European in nature.’
Mr Cameron has previously said that the Government ‘will not be neutral’ in the debate about Britain’s EU membership.
- Brussels bureaucrats will today pocket thousands of euros in bonuses despite their shambolic handling of the migrant crisis. An inflation-busting 2.4 per cent pay rise will be backdated to July to give staff an extra treat in their Christmas pay packets. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will get a bonus of almost 3,700 euros (£2,700). His new salary will be £230,490 – 60 per cent higher than the £142,500 paid to the British Prime Minister. Mr Juncker is also entitled to a £47,000 housing and expenses allowance and will receive a £48,800-a-year pension when he turns 65 as well as £295,000 to help him ‘resettle’ when his five-year term ends.