Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined 61,000 pounds ($AU108,745) for breaching spending rules in the 2016 referendum and referred to the police, Britain’s Electoral Commission says.
- Vote Leave worked with BeLeave on a common plan, but did not declare their joint working
- Vote Leave also refused to co-operate fully with the investigation from the start
- BeLeave’s founder and the responsible person for Vote Leave have been referred to police
Two years since voting to leave the EU, the United Kingdom, the political elite and business remain deeply divided over whether the country should leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, and if so how.
While opponents of Brexit have claimed the campaign to leave the EU cheated in the referendum, the Electoral Commission’s chief executive Claire Bassett told BBC radio its investigation was focused only on campaign spending violations.
The commission said Vote Leave worked with another campaign group, BeLeave, which spent 675,000 pounds ($1,203,930) with Aggregate IQ, a company which used social media data to target voters, under a common plan with Vote Leave.
“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,” said Bob Posner, the commission’s director of political finance and regulation.
Mr Posner added that Vote Leave had resisted the investigation from the start and had refused to cooperate.
“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial,” Mr Posner said.
“These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”
Vote Leave was fined $108,745 and the Electoral Commission referred David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Darren Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, to the police for false declarations of campaign spending.
Mr Grimes said he was shocked and disappointed by the commission’s decision, adding that he did nothing wrong.
Supporters of Brexit say they are fighting an attempt by the establishment to thwart Brexit.
“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,” a Vote Leave spokesman said in a statement.
“All this suggests that the supposedly impartial commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts.”
Under British electoral law, it is the responsibility of campaigners to ensure an accurate and complete campaign spending return is completed on time.
The commission opened an investigation in November 2017 after it found evidence indicating Vote Leave had made payments to Aggregate IQ in the 10 days before the referendum.
The investigation found Vote Leave’s referendum spending was 7,449,079.34 pounds ($13,286,177.91) exceeding its statutory spending limit of 7 million pounds ($12,485,200).
No second referendum, Prime Minister says
In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million people, or 51.9 per cent of votes cast, supported leaving the EU, while 16.1 million people, or 48.1 per cent of the votes, supported staying in the EU.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
“With new facts arising every week … we know their claims turned out to be fantasy but we now know they cheated too,” opposition politician Chukka Umunna told Parliament after demanding an urgent response from the Government.
“We cannot say with confidence that this foul play did not impact on the result.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Monday (local time) there would be no second referendum after a former British minister, Justine Greening, called for another vote to solve a parliamentary stalemate on Brexit.
“We are very clear that this was a legitimate democratic exercise in which the public delivered its opinion and that that is what we’re going to be delivering on,” Ms May’s spokesman told reporters.