Cameron and Osborne exploited the civil service over Brexit: Project Fear undermined trust in Whitehall, say MPs
A report criticised decision to spend £9.3m of taxpayers’ money on a biased, pro-Remain pamphlet
Commons committee said civil service failed to prepare for possibility of Brexit
Committee also highly critical of the way David Cameron held the referendum
By JOHN STEVENS DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR FOR THE DAILY MAIL
12 April 2017
David Cameron and George Osborne damaged the civil service’s reputation for impartiality by dragging officials into the Brexit referendum campaign, MPs have said.
A scathing report has criticised their ‘inappropriate’ and ‘counter-productive’ decision to spend £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money on a biased pro-Remain pamphlet sent to all households setting out the arguments for Remain.
The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee also said the civil service under Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had failed to prepare for the possibility of Brexit.
It accused ministers – including the then chancellor – of ‘misrepresenting’ a series of reports drawn up by the Treasury warning about Brexit.
In a report on what lessons should be learned from the EU referendum, it said the Remain campaign, which was dubbed ‘Project Fear’, had unfairly presented the Treasury’s analysis.
The committee gave the example of a report on the short-term impacts of Brexit, which was published just a month before the 23 June vote on the front page of the Treasury website with the banner headline: ‘UK economy would fall into recession if Britain leaves the EU.’
‘This both misrepresented the analysis and was very obviously partisan in the context of the campaign,’ the MPs said.
They added: ‘The Government was legally obliged to publish reports on aspects of the UK’s membership of the EU.
‘However, the presentation of these reports, particularly those from the Treasury, and the decision to spend £9.3 million on sending a leaflet, advocating a Remain vote, to all UK households, were inappropriate and counterproductive for the Government.
‘These incidents strengthen the case for the purdah provisions [of the Local Government Act] to be extended to the full length of a referendum campaign.’
The committee was also highly critical of the way David Cameron held the referendum to ‘call the bluff’ of his critics and to ‘close down unwelcome debate’ and then resigned when he lost.
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