Who’s getting taxpayers’ money in the EU referendum?

7 April 2016
What was claimed

The official Leave campaign is getting a similar amount of money as the Remain campaign.

Our verdict

The government is spending an estimated £9 million sending pro-Remain leaflets to all UK households. This is on top of what the official campaign groups on either side of the debate will get in public money, which includes a free mailout.

John Humphrys: “They [the Leave campaign] cannot access £9 million of taxpayers’ money”

Michael Fallon (Defence Secretary): “But they’re getting around £7 million to produce their leaflet”

John Humphrys: “Ah but you’re [the Remain campaign] getting that as well”

BBC Today Programme, 7 April 2016

“The Leave campaign will be entitled to a similar amount of money. They'll be spending millions of taxpayers' money putting out their arguments once the campaign proper gets underway. So they'll be using taxpayers' money as well.”

Michael Fallon, Sky News, 7 April 2016

"Fallon Lies: Claims leave are getting a similar amount of public money are not true #r4today"

"Oh look, fallon is on #skynews lying again. We will not recieve the equivalent in taxpayer support" (sic.)

Vote Leave on Twitter, 7 April 2016

Next week every household in the country will receive a leaflet from the government setting out its case for why it thinks the UK should remain an EU member. This will cost over £9 million of public money (including £3 million in digital promotion), according to the government.

Leave campaigners object to this, saying it’s a misuse of public funds and that they won’t be able to get as much during the actual campaign period.

It’s correct that the two official campaigns will get some public money in direct grants and publicly funded benefits such as a free mailout across the country. This is likely to amount to millions, but it’s not clear exactly how much. It shouldn’t be confused with the £7 million spending limit each will have which is money they have to raise themselves.

Both Remain and Leave lead campaigns have a £7 million spending limit

The Electoral Commission will make its decision on an official ‘lead’ campaign for each side—‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’—by 14 April.

Both lead campaigns have a spending limit of up to £7 million, although some kinds of spending fall outside.

Anyone else can spend up to £10,000, or £700,000 if they register with the Commission. Political parties are entitled to spend more on the campaign, depending on their share of the vote.

This isn’t public money; they have to raise it themselves.

The government’s spending of £9 million on this week’s leaflet is separate from all this, as the government is not treated as a campaign. Restrictions on what information the government can put out for the referendum only come into force between 27 May and polling day on 23 June.

Both campaigns also receive benefits which will cost public money.

What assistance the campaigns can get

  • A grant of up to £600,000. The Electoral Commission says this can be used for certain spending including administrative costs, putting together campaign broadcasts and producing a leaflet to send out to voters.
  • A free mailing of that leaflet to voters. This is only for the delivery by Royal Mail, rather than dissemination online. It excludes any spending on production.
  • Free referendum campaign broadcasts.
  • A free dedicated page in an information booklet sent to every household by the Electoral Commission.
  • Use of certain public buildings for meetings.

These don’t count towards the £7 million limit for campaign spending as they’re not charged to the campaigns.

There’s good reason to assume these benefits amount to “millions of pounds” of public money, as Mr Fallon said.

The free mailout each lead organisation is entitled to, for instance, is likely to cost a significant amount. Back in 2011, during the referendum on the AV voting system, over £8 million of public money was spent funding the delivery of the two lead campaigns’ free mailout to addresses across the country.

So while the campaigns only directly get £600,000, the free benefits they’re also entitled to will amount to a public cost.

Michael Fallon mentioned on Sky News today a figure of “over £20 million” of public money being made available to both campaigns. We’ve asked the government for a source for this figure.

If you’re wondering why the direct grant is set at £600,000, incidentally, it’s designed to be the equivalent in today’s money of what the campaigns in the 1975 EU referendum got.

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