EU referendum
The opinion polls around the EU referendum are neck-and-neck ahead of the 23 June vote Yves Herman/Reuters

The historic referendum on the UK's membership of the EU will cost British taxpayers' more than £142m ($200m, €179m), according to the Conservative government. Cabinet Office minister John Penrose said the total cost for the 23 June ballot had been discussed and agreed with the Electoral Commission.

"This includes the expenses incurred by Counting Officers in running the poll, grants to the designated lead campaign organisations, the delivery by Royal Mail of campaign mailings from those organisations, and the cost of the central count," the Tory MP informed parliament on 23 March.

"It is important that Counting Officers and the Electoral Commission have the resources necessary to conduct the Referendum effectively and efficiently."

Harry Davis, campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, added: "Of course democracy comes at a price, but the authorities must always be seeking to keep administrative costs down.

"And as the country prepares to vote on its relationship with Europe for the first time in more than forty years, it is essential that the government does not abuse taxpayers' money by spending even more of it in attempts to skew the debate in one direction."

The news comes as 'leave' and 'remain' are almost neck-and-neck in the opinion polls. The latest survey from ICM, conducted between 18 and 20 March, put 'leave' on 43% and 'remain' on 41%. A separate poll from OBR, of more than 800 people between 11 and 14 March, put 'leave' on 49% and 'remain' on 47%.

Britain Stronger In Europe, which is run by former Labour parliamentary candidate Will Straw, has assumed the lead 'remain' campaign role. But the Electoral Commission will have until the 14 April to designate a lead 'leave' group. The Grassroots Out (GO) Movement, which has the support of Ukip and Leave.EU, is challenging Vote Leave for a spending limit of £7m, a grant of up to £600,000 and TV broadcast slots.