Fine for electoral law breach
Brexit campaign group Vote Leave facing police inquiry
A police investigation will be launched into Brexit campaign group Vote Leave after it was fined £61,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaking electoral law.
The investigation found “significant evidence of joint working” between the group and another organisation – BeLeave – leading to it exceeding its £7m spending limit by almost £500,000.
Vote Leave also returned an “incomplete and inaccurate spending report”, with almost £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending, the watchdog said.
It said it had imposed punitive fines on Vote Leave because the group had refused to co-operate fully with its investigation and declined to be interviewed. Its former chief executive, Matthew Elliott, had previously alleged it was the Electoral Commission that had refused to cooperate.
The commission’s report found evidence BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with data firm Aggregate IQ coordinated with Vote Leave, which should have been declared by the Brexit campaign group.
BeLeave founder Darren Grimes has also been fined £20,000 and referred to the police for breaking the group’s spending limit by more than £665,000 and wrongly reporting the spending as his own.
Veterans for Britain were also found to have inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave and has been fined £250.
Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said: “The Electoral Commission has followed the evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning carried out by Vote Leave and BeLeave.
“We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”
He added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.
“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”
Vote Leave responds
A Vote Leave spokesman said: “The Electoral Commission’s report contains 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. 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.
“Vote Leave has provided evidence to the Electoral Commission proving there was no wrongdoing. And yet despite clear evidence of wrongdoing by the Remain campaign, the commission has chosen to ignore this and refused to launch an investigation.
“All this suggests that the supposedly impartial commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts.
“The commission has failed to follow due process, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories.
“We will consider the options available to us, but are confident that these findings will be overturned.”
In the Commons last night the UK government caved in to Brexiteers to secure a vote on the Customs Bill by just three votes.
The government agreed to Brexiteers’ demands to change its wording.
Pro-EU Tories accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “caving in” to the party’s Eurosceptic MPs. Defence Minister Guto Bebb resigned so he could vote against the government.
MPs will continue debating Brexit today when the Trade Bill comes to the Commons.