London – An opposition lawmaker said Tuesday’s report by Britain’s electoral watchdog on a breach of funding by the official Vote Leave campaign made the 2016 Brexit referendum look “dogier than ever.”
The Electoral Commission said Vote Leave had failed to declare its cooperation with another group, announcing fines and reporting the groups’ conduct to police.
Breaking electoral law
Labour’s David Lammy, a campaigner for a second referendum from the Best for Britain group, said the report means the “narrow referendum result looks dodgier than ever.”
“Brexit was not only sold on deliberate lies and false promises, but also by breaking electoral law,” tweeted Sarah Wollaston, one of a growing group of lawmakers from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives who are calling for another referendum.
The commission said it found “significant evidence of undeclared joint working between the lead leave campaigner, Vote Leave, and the campaign group BeLeave” ahead of the referendum, in which 52 per cent voted to leave the European Union.
It said all spending by BeLeave and its founder, Darren Grimes, was “incurred under a common plan with Vote Leave.”
The BeLeave spending, including 675,315 pounds (899,000 dollars) for services from data firm Aggregate IQ that was reported by Grimes, should have been counted as Vote Leave expenditure, the commission said.
It said Grimes and Vote Leave official David Halsall were reported to the police “in relation to false declarations,” with fines of 61,000 pounds imposed on Vote Leave and 20,000 pounds on Grimes.
Grimes rejected the findings, claiming the commission had “caved to political pressure from those who despise Brexit enough to pour hundreds of thousands of pounds into thwarting it through our courts and backroom channels.”
He claimed the irregularity came from “the wrong box being ticked in an application form.
“I have been persecuted for over two years now by powerful people for nothing more than engaging in the political process and having the temerity to be on the winning side,” he said.
Riddled with errors
Former Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott also accused the commission of ignoring “detailed evidence” from the group, meaning its report was “riddled with errors.”
Vote Leave, fronted by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, has also been accused of misleading claims and stoking fear and anti-immigrant sentiment among voters.
It ran a poster campaign showing an open door in the style of an EU passport and the message: “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU. Vote Leave, take back control.”
Tom Baldwin interviewed Gove for his new book on the politics behind Brexit, “Ctrl Alt Delete,” asking if he had been happy with the Vote Leave claims on potential immigration from Turkey.
“There is a sense at the back of my mind that we didn’t get everything absolutely right,” The Guardian quoted Gove as replying in the book, to be published on Thursday.
In May, the commission also fined Leave.EU, which was led by former United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, for “multiple breaches of electoral law” in the funding of its Brexit campaigning.