The justice secretary was referring to the cartoon adventure book The Mystery of the Golden Stars, which is printed by the European commission and offered to schools for free to educate pupils about the institution in a “child-friendly way”.
“It’s outrageous that the £350m British taxpayers send to the EU every week is being spent on propaganda designed to indoctrinate children,” Gove told the Sun newspaper. “We should take back control and spend our money on our priorities like the NHS.”
The EU commission’s London office said the booklet was not “propaganda or campaigning” and that it was only sent to schools when requested. It said guidance accompanying the book advised teachers to explain that there was a debate in the UK about the pros and cons of EU membership.
The Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell called on the EU to withdraw the “freebie resource” from British schools, saying it was wrong that the commission had the ability “to flood schools with this dodgy literature when a referendum is so close”.
Gove’s complaint came after David Cameron was forced to defend spending £9m of government money on producing and sending a 14-page pro-EU leaflet to every household in the UK before the referendum on 23 June.
The announcement provoked a furious response from prominent Conservatives who are campaigning to leave the EU, including Gove, the former defence secretary Liam Fox and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Gove said: “I want a fair campaign, I want people to hear from both sides but what I think is wrong is spending £9m of taxpayers’ money on one particular piece of one-sided propaganda. I think it is wrong that money that should be spent on priorities like the NHS is being spent on Euro-propaganda.”
Speaking at a Q&A with students at Exeter University on Thursday, Cameron said he would make no apology for the leaflet. “We are not neutral in this,” he said. “We think it would be a bad decision to leave. We think it would be bad for our economy, bad for jobs, bad for investment, bad for families’ finances.”
The leaflet was printed by the UK printing company Williams Lea, which is owned by the German firm Deutsche Post DHL, which in turn is 21% owned by the German government. The pamphlet features the HM Government logo and reads: “Why the government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK.”
Brexit campaigners have pointed to Electoral Commission advice issued after the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 which said the government should not post leaflets to homes “for the duration of the referendum period”.
In a statement about the EU vote, the commission said: “The regulated spending period for the referendum comes into force on 15 April. The commission recommended after the referendum on Scottish independence that during the regulated period, the government should conduct no taxpayer-funded advertising activity.
“However, parliament decided not to put any legal restrictions on government activity until 28 days before the poll, which are the same rules that were in place for other recent referendums.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th April 2016 09.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010