EU referendum: how much does campaigning cost the taxpayer?

EU referendum: how much does campaigning cost the taxpayer?

After the furore over the Government's pro-EU leaflets last week, we decided to find out how much the referendum costs and where the money comes from.

Anna Jordan

Rights, Scams and Politics

Anna Jordan
Updated on 10 April 2016

Tempers ran high after David Cameron announced he was sending out a leaflet to every UK household encouraging them to vote 'remain' in June’s EU referendum.

The printing and delivery of the leaflets to 27 million homes cost more than £9.3 million in total (34p per household). That’s £458,500 to produce and £5.94 million to print and deliver across the UK. A substantial £2.89 million has been spent on the accompanying website and digital promotion.

Leaflets are being distributed in England and will reach the rest of the UK’s letterboxes following devolved elections on 5 May.

Public money vs self-funding

After being decided by the Electoral Commission on 14 April, each official side will be able to spend up to £7 million but it must be self-funded (ie not from the taxpayer). 

As for the taxpayer's bill, both leading sides will get a grant of up to £600,000. The Electoral Commission says can be used for certain spending like administrative costs, producing campaign broadcasts and making leaflets for voters.

Each campaign also receives free benefits which will also cost public money. These include:

  • A free mailing of aforementioned leaflets to voters. It only covers delivery by Royal Mail and excludes any spending on production
  • Free referendum campaign broadcasts
  • A free dedicated page in an information booklet sent to households by the Electoral Commission
  • Use of certain public buildings for meetings

The £600,000 figure is intended to reflect the equivalent in today’s money to what campaigns in the 1975 EU referendum got.

The Government can get away with spending more than £9 million as it isn’t treated as a campaign group. However, it is barred from making any new spending or policy announcements after the ‘Purdah’ (veil) period, 28 days before the referendum. This falls on 27 May.

That said, some “factual information” regarding costs and benefits of EU membership will be released in the final month before voting, which is a slight bending of normal Purdah rules.

Campaign spending boost

Political parties’ eligible spend is relative to their share of the vote in the last general election. Conservatives get £7 million, Labour £5.5 million, UKIP £4 million and Liberal Democrats £3 million.

Smaller parties like the SNP, Green, DUP and Plaid Cymru have £700,000 each.

As most political parties are in favour of staying in the EU, it can give the 'remain' camp up to an estimated £26.6 million while 'leave' could get £11.7 million overall.

Anyone else can spend up to £10,000 on their preferred campaign, or £700,000 if they register with the Electoral Commission.

How much will the referendum itself cost?

The estimated cost of the referendum itself stands at £142.4 million, according to cabinet office minister John Penrose. This goes towards running polling stations, counting votes, organising postal voting and providing polling cards. 

Part of it covers the grants for the official campaign groups as well as postal delivery of their campaign leaflets.

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