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04th Jul 2018

Leaked report on Brexit campaign claims Vote Leave broke electoral law

James Dawson

The Electoral Commission is expected to find the official Brexit campaign guilty of four charges of breaking electoral law

The elections watchdog has accused the Vote Leave campaign – that was fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – of breaking spending limits and failing to comply with a number of rules around the EU referendum, according to a report leaked by the campaign’s former chief executive.

A preliminary investigation by the Electoral Commission is believed to have concluded that it had made four potential breaches of election law.

The BBC reported last night that Vote Leave has been found to have exceeded the £7m spending limit, along with making an inaccurate return of campaign expenditure, having missing invoices and receipts, and failing to comply with a statutory notice.

The damning allegations centre around a £680,000 donation passed on by the campaign to BeLeave, a separate youth Brexit group headed up by student Darren Grimes. It is claimed that the money was used for the benefit of Vote Leave to pay data firm Aggregate IQ for targeted social media messaging.

Allegations that collusion between Vote Leave and BeLeave broke Electoral Commission rules have been circulating for several months, however, both campaigns deny this.

If the group had recorded the payment officially it would put them above the spending cap imposed by the Electoral Commission on both sides of the referendum campaign.

The Commission said that it gave Vote Leave its initial findings and 28 days to make “any further or new representations”, a period that elapsed on Tuesday. The leak is unlikely to affect the full release of the report which the watchdog added will occur at the “earliest opportunity”.

Tory minister Michael Gove, who played a prominent part in the Vote Leave campaign, responded to the leak on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and said the commission’s findings would be challenged in court.

The Environment Secretary said he had not read the election watchdog’s initial report, but added Vote Leave’s former chief executive Matthew Elliott had made clear he “vigorously contests” the conclusion. Elliott is believed to have submitted a 500-page dossier to the Electoral Commission rebutting the claims.

Gove said: “The report itself, I think, is going to be challenged legally.

“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.”

And speaking to the BBC, Elliott said the commission had “listened to one side of the story”.

“We offered to go in for interviews, both at board level and at staff level,” he said.

“They haven’t accepted any interviews from our side.”

An Electoral Commission 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.”


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