European Union 20th April 2016
One of the main and most common constituency complaints about the forthcoming referendum on the future of our membership of the European Union is that “I don`t know the facts and there is not enough information available”.
That being so I find the complaint emanating , so far as I can gather exclusively from those who wish to extricate the United Kingdom from the EU , about the now widely-circulated leaflet explaining the Government`s position, as perverse.
The Government is not neutral in this debate. The Cabinet, from which not a single member resigned in protest, agreed unanimously that the administration`s formal position was to support a “Remain” vote based upon the security and economic interests of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The leaflet explains, in very straightforward terms, what the Government believes to be the benefits of remaining within the EU and what the consequences would be and what would flow from a “Brexit” vote. That seems to me to be pretty straightforward and, contrary to the “improper use of taxpayer`s money” assertion there is an absolute precedent, set during the earlier referendum held under Harold Wilson`s government, when again the Government set out its stall and left it to the electorate to decide the in/out outcome of the vote. Clearly, were the Government to have gone to the marketplace and to have secured donated funding from Business, Industry or from the kind of donors who are funding the `Vote Leave` and `Grassroots Out` campaigns to pay for the printing and distribution of leaflets there would have been screams of anger about how `The Referendum is being bought`!
Whatever your view of our membership of the European Union – and at present opinion appears to be pretty much divided equally with a high percentage of people still waiting to decide how to vote – it has, surely, to be unrealistic to expect that those seeking to withdraw should be able to raise funds from all manner of sources and to promote their cause, as they have been for months, through leaflets and through the media and, in the case of Vote Leave, to receive support from the taxpayer , while an elected majority government is not permitted to make its case in what it collectively believes to be in the best interests of the future of the United Kingdom. That individual members of the Cabinet and junior Ministers are able to, individually, campaign against the line taken by the Government of the day is the mark of a mature democracy. That does not, though, absolve the Government from its responsibility to set out the case as it sees it.
I accept entirely that the views expressed in the Government`s leaflet are open to challenge as, of course, are the claims and assertions expressed by the supporters of Vote Leave. In one respect the situation is similar to that at a General Election: different parties and candidates set out their stalls and the voter has to decide who to believe and who to favour with their support. In this instance we are choosing not a Government but the future path down which our children and our grandchildren will be required to travel. I shall return to this subject and to my own decision, as a Eurosceptic, to vote to remain within the EU, later but for the moment I hope that the information now being made available by both sides will be studied by all those intending to vote with great care. It is, after all, the physical and financial security of our Country that is at stake.