Treasury set to make high-stakes entry into EU referendum debate

Exit Sign

The Treasury is primed to publish a barrage of statistics showing the economic merits of Britain’s membership of the EU this week, ahead of a controversial intervention by President Barack Obama in the campaign.

It is understood that officials are preparing to make public a “comprehensive assessment of the costs and benefits of membership” as the in/out battle starts in earnest. A similar study by Treasury officials in the run-up to last year’s Scottish independence referendum saw the then first minister, Alex Salmond, accuse Whitehall of “trying to cook the books”.

The document will be published either this week or early next, depending on negotiations with the Treasury select committee, which has asked for sight of it.

In a speech this week, the chancellor, George Osborne, is expected to trumpet the latest unemployment figures and warn of the risk to jobs should the UK leave the EU.

The US president is due to arrive in the UK on Friday and present his argument in favour of Britain remaining in the EU during a press conference at Downing Street. He will address a “town hall event” with young voters in central London on Saturday, at which he is likely to again hail the benefits to the global order of a strong EU with Britain at its heart. “We have no closer friend in the world, and if we are asked our view as a friend, we will offer it,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Washington.

News of Obama’s appearance has already caused outrage and the Treasury’s intervention is likely to cause fresh complaints from the Vote Leave campaign. The London mayor, Boris Johnson, turned his fire on David Cameron once again for “shamefully” spending £9.3m of taxpayers’ cash on a pro-EU leaflet distributed to every household in the country.

Megan Dunn, leader of the National Union of Students, joined 25 of her predecessors in urging young people to vote to remain in the EU. She, along with former NUS heads including former cabinet ministers Jack Straw and Charles Clarke, as well as Gemma Tumelty, Wes Streeting and Lorna Fitzsimons, argues in a letter to the Observer: “Remaining in Europe is the right choice for students and young people, in terms both of values and material wellbeing. They will live a long time with the consequences of the vote, and would be harmed most if the UK voted to leave.”

Government ministers have written to every college and university across the UK, urging them to ensure their students are registered before the 7 June deadline to vote in the EU referendum. In the letter Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that for students the decision will be “one of the biggest of their lives”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation will this week raise concerns about the number of people who are not registered to vote. Its chair, Chloe Smith, the Conservative MP for Norwich North, said: “The deadline to register to vote for the EU referendum, one of the most important political decisions of our lifetime, is fast approaching. With around 50% of under-35s planning to vote on 23 June – compared with 80% of over-55s – it’s now vital that young people take action and ensure they’re registered. With the outcome of the referendum likely to affect young people the most, whether that’s opportunities to work, study or travel, younger citizens shouldn’t be locked out of this once-in-a-generation decision. That means registering, sorting out a postal vote, and making a decision about whether the UK is better off in, or out, of the EU.”

Meanwhile the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, made a speech describing the EU as “unreformable” as she made her case for Brexit during a Scottish Vote Leave event in Glasgow. Britain had joined in an “admission of defeat” that the country was facing chronic decline, but it was now time for self-governing democracy to return.

The justice secretary, Michael Gove, will make a speech on Wednesday sketching his vision of the UK outside the EU, an area that is recognised as a weakness by the Vote Leave campaign.

Last Friday was the first day of the official 10-week referendum campaign.

Powered by article was written by Daniel Boffey and Toby Helm, for The Observer on Saturday 16th April 2016 21.33 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010