Brexit: Vote Leave broke law says Electoral Commission

Discussion in 'UK Politics' started by Mel O'Drama, Jul 17, 2018.

  1. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    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 watchdog said it exceeded its £7m spending limit by funnelling £675,315 through pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave.

    The founder of BeLeave, Darren Grimes, has been fined £20,000 and referred to the police, along with Vote Leave official David Halsall.

    Vote Leave said the "wholly inaccurate" report was politically motivated.

    The Vote Leave campaign, which was fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, won the contest to be the official Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum on whether Britain 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.

    The referendum was not legally binding, merely "advisory," according to a Supreme Court judgement in December 2016, so it can't be ordered to be re-run by a court - any decision to have a fresh referendum would have to be made by the government and Parliament would have to pass a referendum act.

    The Electoral Commission has referred Mr Grimes and Mr Halsall to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending, and handed over files "in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences" that fall outside the watchdog's remit.

    Vote Leave and the official Remain campaign Britain Stronger in Europe were allowed to spend £7m each on campaigning in the run up to the referendum.

    Vote Leave spent nearly £2.7m of its £7m budget on the services of a Canadian digital marketing firm, Aggregate IQ.

    A further £675,315 was sent to Aggregate IQ by BeLeave, a group set up by Mr Grimes, then a fashion student at Brighton university.

    The money came from Vote Leave which has said in the past it was told by the Electoral Commission it was allowed to do this because BeLeave was a separate campaign group.

    But the Electoral Commission - which is the watchdog overseeing elections in the UK and ensuring that UK laws on spending by political parties are followed - has ruled that the two groups were working together and Mr Grimes had "wrongly" reported the spending as his own.

    This meant that, including this amount, the Electoral Commission says Vote Leave spent £7,449,079, breaching its £7m spending limit.

    Darren Grimes is also said to have exceeded the £10,000 he was allowed to spend as a non-registered campaigner, the watchdog said.

    Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said: "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."

    It is impossible to say how overspending by the Vote Leave campaign affected the referendum result. It all went to one marketing firm, which developed highly-targeted Facebook advertising.

    In a quote since removed from the Aggregate IQ website, Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings said: "We couldn't have done it without them."

    Former Vote Leave activist Shahmir Sanni, who went public with allegations about overspending earlier this year, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One the extra cash spent by BeLeave had affected the referendum outcome - saying such a sum "can make all the difference".

    Anti-Brexit Labour peer Lord Adonis said Vote Leave's overspending "could have been decisive" in the 2016 referendum because it was a close result but he did not want to re-run that campaign.

    Instead, he said "all of those responsible for this breach of the law" should be "barred" from playing any part in any future referendum, such as the one he is calling for on the final Brexit deal.

    Labour is calling for Tory ministers who were key figures in Vote Leave to referred to the cabinet secretary to determine whether they had broken the ministerial code.

    In a statement on Twitter, Mr Grimes said it was "incredible" that he had been fined £20,000 "on the basis of the wrong box being ticked on an application form".

    He said he had been interviewed by the Electoral Commission during two previous investigations and had never been "provided with particulars" of the allegation that he had worked on a "common plan" with Vote Leave so that he could "make representations about it".

    "Politicians say they want young people to engage with politics. I was 22 when I got involved in a referendum I felt passionately about. I did nothing wrong," he added.

    "I have been persecuted for over two years by powerful people for nothing more than engaging in the democratic process and having the temerity to be on the winning side. It has been appalling for my family."

    The Electoral Commission cleared Vote Leave of breaking spending limits in March last year but re-opened its investigation in October, saying new evidence had come to light from its own investigations, media reports, academics and whistleblowers.

    Another pro-Brexit group, Veterans for Britain, was also found to have inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave and has been fined £250.

    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.

    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."

    The Electoral Commission hit back at allegations of political bias, saying: "We open investigations where the evidence justifies it, irrespective of the political views of the party or campaigner concerned."

    It also insisted it had followed "due process" and had spent three months and made five attempts to interview Vote Leave representatives.

    Months into the investigation, "certain Vote Leave staff members came to us separately and offered to be interviewed", an Electoral Commission source said, but by that point it had gathered enough evidence to conclude that an offence had occurred.

    Asked whether it believed the referendum result was still valid, No 10 said the public delivered a "clear verdict" which the government was in the process of implementing.

    But speaking in the Commons, former Tory home secretary Amber Rudd said ministers should not use this to "obfuscate" from its duty to protect the electoral system from abuses.

    And Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who voted to remain, called for the referendum to be re-run.

    A separate Brexit campaign, Leave.EU, was fined £70,000 in March for failing to declare "at least" £77,380 it spent on referendum campaigning.

    Leave.EU chief executive Liz Bilney was referred to the police following the commission's investigation. Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks called it a "politically motivated attack" and said he would take the watchdog to court.

    Leave.EU, which was fronted by then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, was only allowed to spend £700,000 in the run up to the referendum, after losing out to Vote Leave in the battle to designated the official Leave campaign.

    The official Remain campaign Britain Stronger in Europe, was fined £1,250 in December last year for not providing invoice



    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44856992
     
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  2. Angela Channing

    Angela Channing Soap Chat Champian

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    Considering how close the result of the referendum was, the illegal amounts of extra cash that Vote Leave spend might have been enough to swing sufficient votes to change the outcome of the election.

    The referendum should be declared null and void and a new clean vote on the EU should take place.

    All those Tory MPs that were associated with the Vote Leave campaign need to be investigated by the police to determine what they know of the fraud and to establish their involvement in it. The Electoral Commission report raises serious questions about whether those Tories are fit to be part of the Government.
     
  3. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    And if it is again a close vote?
    Years before Europe started slowly losing its mind, followed by the US in 2016, The Economist offered this warning against referendums. I have always thought they were a simplistic and lousy idea, and events have made me believe that even more.

    https://www.economist.com/leaders/2011/04/20/the-perils-of-extreme-democracy

    It is worth reading the whole article, but the conclusion is eerily prescient:

    The worry is that the Western world is slowly drifting in the opposite direction. Concern over globalisation means government is unpopular and populism is on the rise. Europeans may snigger at the bizarre mess those crazy Californians have voted themselves into. But how many voters in Europe would resist the lure of a ballot initiative against immigration? Or against mosque-building? Or lower taxes? What has gone wrong in California could all too easily go wrong elsewhere.
     
  4. Angela Channing

    Angela Channing Soap Chat Champian

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    It doesn't matter how close it would be because it would be a legitimate close vote unlike what we have at the moment, an illegitimate close vote that was swayed by an illegal activities.

    I agree mainly because people are given a binary choice on very complex issues which generally cannot be answered by a simple yes/no or leave/remain response. The broadcaster Susanna Reid this week put it beautifully when she said people were asked whether or not they wanted ice cream but no one asked them what flavour they wanted. That's where we are now, arguing over what flavour of Brexit we want.
     
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  5. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat TV Fanatic

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    Brexit noise has made its way to nightly NEWS here in Australia with commentators and members of the public demanding another referendum. Clearly they didn't like the desired result and require another referendum to achieve their end game. So if the result was reversed and 51.9% was to remain and 48.1% was to leave would this still be making NEWS?

    Just sometimes I scratch my head regarding election results but I accept the umpires decision and move on otherwise these things will screw you up.
     
  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm one of the people who is unhappy with the outcome of the referendum, but what I'm most unhappy about is the amount of misleading "information" that was circulated leading up to the vote. There was misinformation on both sides, which is completely unacceptable, but the Leave campaign in particular was downright dishonest in their successful attempts to encourage undecided voters to come down on their side.

    In particular, I resent the way the Leave campaign tapped into and exploited xenophobia and racism with every lie they presented to votes as fact. They completely ignored the implications of leaving the EU in mattes such as legislation, economy or human rights. Instead, they saturated people with misinformation about immigration. I was getting regular mail from various campaigns and parties trying to influence voters to leaving the EU. This included a flyer warning voters that Turkey wanted to join the EU (something it failed to mention Turkey has been unsuccessfully trying to do for the past thirty years), complete with fear-mongering maps showing the proximity of Turkey to Syria.

    The whole thing culminated in Nigel Farage's infamous "Breaking Point" poster, which took a picture of people in Syria leaving everything they know because of war and strongly implied they were queuing to enter the UK.

    [​IMG]

    An image, by the way, that was uncannily reminiscent. Of anti-Semitic images used in Nazi propaganda:

    [​IMG]

    I don't believe it's a coincidence that within hours of the poster being unveiled, Jo Cox was murdered - shot and stabbed to death while holding a surgery in her constituency by someone who screamed "Britain First". For no other reason than she had chosen to support the Remain campaign.

    So successfully misleading was their campaign that I believe a large percentage of voters actually believed that the entire reason for the referendum was to vote on free movement.

    It could be argued that the people who voted Leave without doing their homework deserved all they got when - among other consequences - the pound became almost worthless overnight. But did the half of the country that voted remain? Or the people who were too young to vote who will have to live with this mess for a long time?

    So yes. The vote has happened. The decision is made. I'm not happy but I've accepted it.

    I will, however, take some consolation in the knowledge that at least one part of their deliberate lack of transparency is being punished.
     
  7. Angela Channing

    Angela Channing Soap Chat Champian

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    I would have accepted the result if I felt it was a fair vote. However, because of the lies, distortions and the whipping up of xenophobia that the Leave campaigned used to achieve the result, the way they broke the law to get people to vote in the way they did and the closeness of the final result, I don't think anyone can say with any confidence that Leave was the actual view of the British people.

    Staying or leaving the EU will be a monumental decision in the history of the UK and we will be doing it on the basis or a tarnished referendum result. That can't be right.
     
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  8. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat TV Fanatic

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    And you are shocked by the tactics employed by both? Whether it's an election or referendum both sides of the argument will deploy misinformation on purpose to whip up voters into a frenzy. It's a tactic (Wedge Policies) now successfully used to confuse us. It keeps the voters from using that thing positioned between our ears. Politicians treat their constituents like sheep...and the majority follow.
     
  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, saddened, certainly.

    I'm not so naive as to think there won't be any kind of spin around key issues when it comes to elections or referenda, but the level of wilful deceit around Brexit is truly something else.


    All too true.
     
  10. Angela Channing

    Angela Channing Soap Chat Champian

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    It was the consequence of the media focusing on Tory politicians in the campaign because lies and scare tactics is their favoured general election tactic.

    Michael Gove and Boris Johnson delivered one set of scare stories for Vote Leave while David Cameron and George Osborne did the same for the remain campaign. Alan Johnson organised the remain campaign for Labour and the media never gave him any air time. Jeremy Corbyn went around the country giving positive speeches about the EU (as did Clegg and Caroline Lucas) and they were never reported as the focus was always on the Tories.

    So no I was not shocked by the tactics because it was typical Tory lies, half-truths, distortions and scare stories promoted by their handmaids in the media.

    The Tories are to blame for the whole fiasco from beginning to end.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2018

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