Lord Lawson condemns 'scandal' of pro-EU leaflets being funded by taxpayer


Conservative former chancellor Lord Lawson has blasted the Government's expenditure of more than £9 million of taxpayers' cash on pro-EU leaflets, branding it a "scandal".

The Tory peer, a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign, argued it is "outrageous" that "pretty worthless propaganda" is being sent out "with the civil service behind it".

Ministers face being forced to justify in Parliament the decision to spend cash on the pamphlets after a petition opposing the idea secured the required 100,000 signatures.

The move to send one to every household in the country setting out the case for voting to stay in the EU in June's referendum provoked a blistering row between Remain and Leave supporters.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove attacked the idea of taxpayers funding "one-sided propaganda" rather than the NHS after Prime Minister David Cameron insisted it was "money well spent".

The petition, submitted by Get Britain Out director Jayne Adye, currently stands at 196,743, meaning it has to be considered for debate in Parliament.

Lord Lawson told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show: "I think a lot of people who haven't made up their mind particularly feel that it's outrageous that this propaganda leaflet should be put through - and it is pure propaganda, pretty worthless propaganda - put out in the Government's name, with the civil service behind it at the taxpayer's expense.

"I think many people feel that that is a scandal."

An amendment to the Finance Bill is due to be tabled by veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash on the issue when it comes before the Commons on Monday.

Asked if he would support it if he was still an MP, Lord Lawson said: "I'll have to have a look at it but it might well be yes."

The Tory peer accused Remain campaigners of trying to "scare the pants off everybody" about leaving the EU.

He said: "In terms of the arguments, I think the pro-Leave campaign is winning them all. In terms of votes, you have to see how strong this totally unfounded fear campaign - there's no campaign to love the EU, that is conspicuous by its absence, so all they are trying to do is scare the pants off everybody about leaving, but it is crazy.

"Most of the countries in the world are outside the EU and they are doing very nicely thank-you."

Asked if Britain would be in a single market after leaving the EU as an institution, Lord Lawson said it was "not important".

He said it is "striking" that trade from outside the EU into the EU had risen much faster than trade within the EU, adding: "You don't need to be within the single market to trade, it's not an issue."

Speaking about the row over the Prime Minister's tax arrangements, he said: "I think David Cameron has himself admitted that he's made a mess of his handling of it, but I think it's pretty trivial, there are more important issues behind it.

"This arose out of the revelations in the so-called Panama Papers and this shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that international co-operation nowadays needs to be global. The idea it can be just European is crazy and the idea that you need to be a member of some political entity or union in order to have international co-operation is also completely mistaken."