Vote Leave: Brexit campaign ‘broke electoral law’ in referendum

Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police after an Electoral Commission probe said it broke electoral law.

The investigation found “significant evidence of joint working” between the group and another organisation – BeLeave – leading to it exceeding its 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.

BeLeave founder Darren Grimes has also been fined 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.

‘Refused to cooperate’
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 was the officially designated campaign group for Leave in the UK’s referendum in 2016 into whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union.

The result of the referendum was 51.9% for Leave and 48.1% for Remain. The UK is due to officially leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 29 March, 2019.

‘Motivated by political agenda’
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.”

With many thanks to: BBC England for the original story

THIRD VOTE LEAVE WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALED

Lawyers acting for whistleblowers have released further evidence they say shows the Vote Leave campaign broke EU referendum spending rules.

The material allegedly shows how closely the campaign worked with youth group BeLeave.

It comes from Mark Gettleson, a web designer, the third person to make claims about Vote Leave’s spending in evidence to a select committee.

Vote Leave has rejected claims of illegal co-ordination with BeLeave.

Legal Firm Matrix Chambers argues, in a 50-page legal opinion, that Vote Leave should have declared payments of just over £625,000 to Canadian data firm, AIQ.

Facebook suspends Brexit data firm
If included in the campaign group’s overall spending return, the payments would have pushed Vote Leave over the £7m limit.

Vote Leave says the £625,000 doesn’t count as its own expenditure, as the money was a donation to Darren Grimes, who set up the group, BeLeave.

He says he spent the money on services provided by AIQ, although the money went directly to AIQ from Vote Leave, for “services in kind” to BeLeave.

The Electoral Commission has said this would have been within the rules, provided that Vote Leave and BeLeave were not working together – a decision that is the subject of a separate legal challenge by the Good Law Project.

Former Vote Leave activist Shahmir Sanni and Christopher Wylie, who worked for controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica, have already claimed that Vote Leave used BeLeave to get round spending limits.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign, has claimed that the allegations are “ludicrous” and that the Leave campaign won the poll “fair and square and legally”.

In the Matrix Chambers legal opinion, Mark Gettleson – who is referred to as J – adds further details of alleged working together.

It also reveals that he met Darren Grimes when they were both working on MP Norman Lamb’s Lib Dem leadership campaign.

The Fair Vote group, which campaigns for another EU referendum, has published some of Mr Gettleson’s evidence on its website.

It includes an email from Mr Gettleson, who worked for Vote Leave between February and April 2016, that says that Vote Leave was responsible for the BeLeave campaign concept and website.

It also shows Mr Gettleson introduced Vote Leave to AIQ, saying he “headhunted the successful digital team,” the campaign group says.

Another email between Mr Gettleson and Cleo Watson, Vote Leave’s head of outreach, is about another group, Veterans for Britain, which donated £100,000 to AIQ. Campaigners claim Veterans for Britain was also used by Vote Leave to sidestep the rules.

Kyle Taylor, director of the Fair Vote Project, said: “This new evidence, on top of Shahmir Sanni’s and Chris Wylie’s, should without a doubt force Parliament to take immediate action and show the British public that it cares about protecting one of our highest ideals – democracy.”

Mr Gettleson’s lawyer, Tamsin Allen, of Bindmans solicitors, said he had hoped to remain anonymous but realised the details in the legal opinion might have led to him being identified and had taken the decision to release the emails.

The legal opinion was submitted by Matrix Chambers as evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into fake news.

“We consider that there is a prima facie case that… electoral offences were committed by Vote Leave in the EU referendum campaign,” the opinion says.

The Electoral Commission, which is investigating Vote Leave’s spending, declined to comment.

Former Vote Leave officials and Veterans for Britain have been contacted for a response.

With many thanks to: BBC England for the origional story.