Given the enormous importance of this issue, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the government providing people with information about the issue, and explaining where they stand. The leaflet does not, contrary to some rather disingenuous selective clips from the leave side, break any promises: the government had said that they would not issue any leaflet like this during the four weeks prior to the referendum but we are not within that period. They never promised to be neutral during the referendum, and there is precedent for what they have done.
It is quite clear what parts of the leaflet are fact and which are opinion: on the basis of my initial look at the leaflet all the facts are correct and all the opinions are reasonable whether I agree with them or not.
The £9 million cost of the leaflet is a tiny proportion of the benefits and costs both sides argue might come out of the decision to leave or stay within Europe and if you are going to have a referendum there should be an informed debate.
There is one figure which has been challenged which is the proportion of "rest of EU" exports which go to Britain. As I understand the situation, if you treat each country in the EU separately and includes exports between different EU countries, which seems entirely reasonable to me, then the figure of "under 8%" of EU exports coming to Britain is correct. If you treat all the rest of the EU other than Britain as one country, and ignore inter-EU trade except with Britain, that figure would be 14%. As Pollstation EU Referendum site says
Jonathan Portes of NIESR was good enough to provide his view on the matter – saying that both are valid calculations providing you make it clear how you are making the calculations. He added that “the government leaflet should have made absolutely clear what it was doing given that this is a complex area and it didn’t. But it’s not flat wrong.” He goes on to say he prefers the use of exports as a share of GDP as an indication of relative bargaining power. In which case its 3% for the EU and 13% for the UK."
In the proper context of the point actually being made in the leaflet, which is comparing the share of EU exports going to the UK with the 44% of British exports which go to the EU, the argument the government is making about our relative bargaining position still stands up whether you compare that 44% with the 8% the government leaflet quotes, the 14% on an alternative basis which "Leave" critics prefer, or go for the 13% of GDP to 3% that Jonathan Portes suggests.
Yes, you could make a valid case for any of those comparisons but on any of them the government's argument would still be valid so I suggest it is not worth getting too hung up on this one.
But having said everything above, there is one major issue on which the people who objected to this leaflet do, I'm afraid, have a point. While I think it was absolutely right to send it, in the interests of balance it would have been more appropriate to send it out between the designation of the official "leave" campaign in a few days' time and the start of the restricted period, and to send it as part of a mailing in which the "leave" campaign was given a chance to include an equivalent leaflet.
I don't think the failure to do that has invalidated the referendum because there are still months for people on both sides to put the argument including the four week restricted period when the campaigning opportunities will have to be balanced, and I think the British people are perfectly capable of making up their own minds without being unduly influenced. But it would have saved such an awful lot of aggravation and anger from those who will understandably see this as unfair.