Vote Leave acted illegally during EU referendum, claims whistleblowers' dossier given to election watchdog

Electoral Commission is looking into whether the Brexit referendum campaign was conducted within rules

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 26 March 2018 19:52
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Lawyers acting for Brexit whistleblowers have handed a 50-page evidence dossier to the UK’s election watchdog, claiming it indicates Vote Leave acted illegally during the referendum.

Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sanni both worked with Vote Leave as it fought the 2016 campaign, but now say an urgent probe is needed into key figures in the group – two of which have since become Downing Street advisers.

Speaking as the dossier was presented to journalists on Monday, Mr Wylie said the evidence cast doubt on the result of the referendum, that it should now be re-run and also called for the No 10 aides to be sacked.

But Brexiteers are set to refute his claims, after his legal representatives refused to reveal names of donors who contributed to his legal costs.

Mr Wylie’s lawyers said evidence in their dossier pointed to a deep collusion between Vote Leave and another pro-Brexit group, BeLeave.

They said the dossier, along with witness statements from Mr Wylie and Mr Sanni, “strongly suggest” a donation of almost £680,000 made by Vote Leave to BeLeave was actually used for Vote Leave’s benefit.

The money was not recorded as Vote Leave expenditure, but if it had it would have taken the group’s spending over the legal £7m limit, breaching electoral law.

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The allegations have been denied by Vote Leave and its former officials, who reject all accusations of wrongdoing.

The dossier includes photographs, emails, messages and other documents which Mr Wylie’s lawyers said built a picture of complicity between key figures in the Vote Leave and BeLeave groups, which shared an HQ.

Mr Wylie’s legal team said the documents showed the groups were in regular contact, that Vote Leave assisted in the creation of BeLeave’s branding, website and constitution, and oversaw activity of its volunteers through the campaign.

It also showed the two groups shared one Google drive where both deposited documents and campaign material.

Lawyers said messages show that after the Electoral Commission began looking into the campaign, the groups coordinated a response and a key Vote Leave figure sought to delete files from the joint drive.

In particular, they said there was circumstantial evidence suggesting the Vote Leave donation to BeLeave was eventually paid to Canadian firm AggregateIQ (AIQ) for targeted messaging services to boost Vote Leave’s campaign – thought they admitted there was no direct written evidence of this.

Mr Wylie has said he was a central figure in setting up AIQ, but was also a former employee of Cambridge Analytica – now facing claims over the unauthorised harvesting of Facebook data.

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He has said the two firms are deeply linked, thought this has been denied by AIQ.

Mr Wylie’s layers said there are “realistic prospects” that Vote Leave and its senior official David Halsall might be convicted, while others including the group’s strategic mastermind Dominic Cummings, and No 10 aides Stephen Parkinson and Cleo Watson, could be legally culpable – though this could only happen if the Electoral Commission recommended the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) take up the case.

With the story gaining pace ahead of select committee hearings on Tuesday, Brexiteers will undoubtedly demand to know who is funding the whistleblowers’ legal costs.

Law firm Bindmans said it was in part pro bono work and crowdfunded, but there had also been donations from individuals who would remain anonymous.

This weekend No 10 aide Mr Parkinson revealed he had dated Mr Sanni for a year and a half, including a period when he was at Vote Leave and Mr Sanni worked as a volunteer.

Mr Wylie said Mr Parkinson’s actions had put Mr Sanni’s family in Pakistan in danger, forcing them to take measures for their own security.

Calling for Mr Parkinson to be sacked, Mr Wylie told reporters: “Mr Sanni was forced to come out to his mum in the middle of the night because No 10 Downing Street decided it was appropriate to out somebody.”

It came after Mr Sanni claimed Vote Leave had “cheated” and that the British people had been “lied to, and that the referendum wasn’t legitimate”.

A Downing Street source made clear that Ms May continues to have full confidence in Mr Parkinson, a political appointee who is employed by the Conservative Party.

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