Readers will recall the £9 million of taxpayers’ money which the Cameron government spent promoting the Remain position in the run-up to the EU referendum, over and above the amount spent by the actual Remain campaign itself. It left a somewhat sour taste in the mouth, and is yet to be forgiven by many Leavers.
Well, they seem to be at it again. Yesterday I noticed that the Cabinet Office is funding Google adverts to appear beneath searches on terms like “brexit deal”:
The promoted link is to a website which offers various videos and, er, inspirational quotes to show how keen big businesses are on the Prime Minister’s offering; “…elements of this deal do go towards a lot of the aspects that we sought”, enthuses the head of BAE Systems. Stirring stuff.
Interestingly, the cookies the site offers hint at a wider advertising push – they include functions to facilitate and track the success of advertising on Facebook and Twitter. The @10DowningStreet account is certainly paying to promote its video ‘explaining’ the deal:
The potential for this to annoy various voters ought to be quite clear – particularly those concerned about the deal, or simply opposed to their taxes being wasted.
Exactly how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on the advertising campaign ahead of Parliament’s vote? Given the issue is to be decided by MPs, isn’t this effectively taxpayer-funded lobbying of the type supposedly driven out of Whitehall under the Coalition? How extensive is the advertising, and are there other costly promotional activities also underway that aren’t publicly visible?
There is also a political risk. If, God forbid, the Prime Minister’s mistaken plan for Brexit ends up producing a general election or a second referendum, with either featuring her deal as one of the options, this advertising could swiftly come to be seen like that deployed by Cameron and Osborne in 2016 – an underhand attempt to use the public purse to influence results at the ballot box. The damage from the last time that approach was pursued still lingers, as the occupants of Downing Street must surely know.
It’s somewhat troubling to see these adverts are also being targeted at people using the search term ‘remain in the EU’: