Vote Leave investigated by Electoral Commission over Brexit campaign spending

Veterans for Britain, a pro-Brexit group, and university student and campaigner Darren Grimes, will also form part of the probe

Tom Batchelor
Monday 20 November 2017 19:02
Vote Leave investigated by Electoral Commission over Brexit campaign spending

The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into spending by Brexit campaign group Vote Leave during the 2016 EU referendum.

The election watchdog said there were “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed” in the run up to the 2016 poll.

Veterans for Britain, a pro-Brexit group, and university student and campaigner Darren Grimes, will also form part of the probe.

The investigation will look at whether Vote Leave exceeded its spending limit in the referendum. It will also probe donations made by Vote Leave to Mr Grimes and Veterans for Britain.

Electoral Commission figures show that Mr Grimes received donations totalling £625,000 from Vote Leave, which - along with £50,000 from an individual donor - allowed the 23-year-old to spend £675,000 on the “BeLeave” social media campaign to encourage young people to vote to quit the EU in last year's referendum.

Veterans for Britain also received a donation worth £100,000 from Vote Leave in the run-up to the vote.

In total, Vote Leave reported spending almost £6.8m during the referendum campaign; just shy of the £7m limit for the lead campaign group.

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Campaigners like Mr Grimes and Veterans for Britain were permitted to spend £700,000.

An investigation launched in February into the actions of Vote Leave was dropped and “resulted in no further action being taken”, the watchdog said.

But the Electoral Commission said “new information” had since come to light.

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Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation, said there were “legitimate questions” over the funding given to Brexit campaigners, which he said risked “causing harm to voters’ confidence in the referendum”.

“There is significant public interest in being satisfied that the facts are known about Vote Leave’s spending on the campaign, particularly as it was a lead campaigner with a greater spending limit than any other campaigners on the ‘leave’ side,” he added.

Meanwhile, the watchdog is facing legal action by Arron Banks, chair of the separate Leave.EU organisation, who wants the commission to reveal its sources behind a parallel investigation into that campaign group’s actions.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said the watchdog had seen Mr Banks' open letter "and will be responding in due course".

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