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Vote Leave fined and referred to police for 'breaking laws over electoral spending'

The results of a much-awaited UK Electoral Commission investigation have been released.

The Vote Leave campaign bus in Cornwall ahead of the referendum.
The Vote Leave campaign bus in Cornwall ahead of the referendum.
Image: Stefan Rousseau

THE UK’S ELECTORAL Commission has fined the Brexit Vote Leave campaign and referred it to the police over breaches of electoral law.

The results of a much-awaited investigation by the Electoral Commission has concluded that Vote Leave exceeded its spending limit and worked alongside another pro-Brexit group that was not registered as a campaigner.

“The Electoral Commission has found significant evidence of undeclared joint working between the lead campaigner, Vote Leave, and the campaign group BeLeave,” the Electoral Commission has said.

It also found that Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit by almost £500,000. We have fined Vote Leave and Darren Grimes and made referrals to the police in relation to false declarations. Investigation files have been shared with the Metropolitan Police in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences which lie outside our regulator limit.

The report noted that the BeLeave was never registered with the commission as a campaigner in the EU Referendum but that: “All of BeLeave’s funding came directly from Vote Leave, or was arranged by Vote Leave.”

The Electoral Commission’s legal counsel Bob Posner added:

We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.

Specifically, the Electoral Commission looked at a payment of £675,315.18 from BeLeave and its founder Darren Grimes to Canadian data analytics firm Aggregate IQ.

The commission said this payment should have been incurred by Vote Leave, the central Brexit campaign ground ahead of the June 2016 referendum.

Vote Leave has been fined a total of £61,000 and Grimes has been fined £20,000.

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In the vote, the UK voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52%-48%.

Responding to the Electoral Commission’s conclusions, a Vote Leave spokesperson said that the report contained “a number of  false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny”.

It is astonishing that nobody from Vote Leave has been interviewed by the commission in the production of this report, nor indeed at any point in the past two years, despite Vote Leave repeatedly making it clear they are willing to do so. Yet the Commission has interviewed the so-called ‘whistleblowers’ who have no knowledge of how Vote Leave operated and whose credibility has been seriously called into question.

“The Commission has failed to follow due process and, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories,” the spokesperson added.

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Rónán Duffy

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