Vote Leave DID break spending rules during 2016 EU referendum

Vote Leave campaign DID break spending rules during 2016 EU referendum, elections watchdog finds

  • Electoral Commission will rule later this month Vote Leave broke spending rules
  • Campaign chief executive confirmed he had been told of the final findings
  • Remain campaigners say it prove Leave cheated its way to Brexit victory in 2016 
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Vote Leave broke spending rules during the 2016 EU referendum, the elections watchdog has found.

The Brexit campaign’s former chief executive Matthew Elliott confirmed he has been told by the Electoral Commission it will rule against the Leave group, meaning it faces the prospect of heavy fines.

The watchdog will say Vote Leave handing money to a smaller campaign with details of how to spend it with an obscure marketing firm broke polling laws.

Campaigns were allowed to work together but crucially are not allowed to link up their spending. Vote Leave was allowed to spend up to £7million.

The findings – set to be formalised later this month – have led to claims Vote Leave ‘cheated’ and will trigger demands from Remain supporters for a re-run.  

Vote Leave was the main Brexit campaign, led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.   

Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign fronted by Boris Johnson (file) broke spending rules during the 2016 EU referendum, the elections watchdog has found

The Brexit campaign’s former chief executive Matthew Elliott (file image) has confirmed the Electoral Commission will rule against the Leave group

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Revealing the findings, Mr Elliott accused the EC of a ‘huge breach of natural justice’, alleging that the watchdog had not listened to Vote Leave’s version of events. 

What allegations is Vote Leave facing and who is investigating?

The Vote Leave bus from the Eu referendum in 2016

The row over spending during the Brexit referendum has been dragging on for nearly two years now.

The claims centre around Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign, which is accused of bending the rules on election expenses.

It donated £625,000 to a smaller youth-focused group called BeLeave in the final days of the campaign. 

While this was legal, it would have been against the rules to tell BeLeave how to spend the money.

Shahmir Sanni claimed Vote Leave did exactly that – ordering the group to spend it on digital advertising with the Canadian firm AggregateIQ.

Vote Leave has denied the allegation, saying its donation was within the rules.

The Electoral Commission carried out an initial assessment of the arrangements early last year, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

However, in November it opened a formal investigation saying new evidence had come to light. 

Mr Elliott told Sky News: ‘Their initial conclusion is that we have overspent, that a donation we made to another group during the course of the campaign was incorrect, we shouldn’t have made that donation.’

The EC said Vote Leave had taken an ‘unusual step’ of going public with the findings of its draft report.

Allegations against the official Brexit campaign centre on a donation of almost £680,000 made by the campaign to a youth Brexit group called BeLeave.

It is alleged the money was actually used for the benefit of Vote Leave, to pay data firm Aggregate IQ for targeted messaging services.

If this cash was recorded as Vote Leave expenditure, it would take the campaign’s spending over the £7 million limit, raising the prospect that electoral law had been breached.

The allegations come from information provided by whistleblowers including Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni.

Mr Wylie worked for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the centre of the Facebook privacy scandal, while Mr Sanni worked with Vote Leave.

Mr Elliott told Sky News: ‘(The EC) listened to these, quite frankly, marginal characters who came out in March, and listened to their stories, but haven’t had evidence from Vote Leave side of things.

‘I think it is a huge breach of natural justice that they haven’t wanted to listen to our opinions and our story and we were the people running the campaign.’

In an interview with the BBC, he said: ‘I believe we acted both within the letter of the law and also the spirit of the law and the spirit of how you should conduct a campaign.

The allegations against Vote Leave come from information provided by whistleblowers including Christopher Wylie (pictured) and Shahmir Sanni.

‘We got the designation, Vote Leave, as the officially designated campaign for Leave, on the basis that we would be working with other groups – we wouldn’t just solely be working on our own, we would work alongside other groups and encourage them, and encourage their activities.’

Mr Gove, who was the campaign co-chairman during the referendum alongside Labour’s Gisela Stuart, said he had not seen the report but indicated that the EC’s findings could be challenged in the courts.

‘The report itself, I think, is going to be challenged legally,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘If it’s going to be challenged legally, if it is going to go through the courts, it would be inappropriate for me – not having read the report – to offer a commentary on it.’

Vote Leave was the campaign vehicle endorsed by senior Tories, including five in the Cabinet at the start of the 2016 campaign – from left Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale 

Pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna said: ‘So, in an EU referendum where there was a 4 per cent victory for Vote Leave, they overspent by 10 per cent.

‘We know they lied; we now know they cheated too and it’s official. Very serious implications.’

An EC spokesman said: ‘The Commission has concluded its investigation and, having reached initial findings, provided Vote Leave with a 28-day period to make any further or new representations. That period ended on Tuesday 3 July.

‘The unusual step taken by Vote Leave in sharing its views on the Electoral Commission’s initial findings does not affect the process set out in law.

‘The Commission will give due consideration to the representations made to the Commission, including those made by other campaigners under investigation.

‘We will then, at the earliest opportunity, publish a thorough and detailed closing report in order to provide a full and balanced account to the public and to Parliament.’ 

Pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna said the Electoral Commission findings proved Vote Leave ‘cheated’ and ‘lied’ 

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