Brexit: Vote Leave quietly drops appeal against £61,000 fine for breaking electoral law

Official Brexit campaign says it has run out of money to pursue appeal after Electoral Commission found it coordinated illegally with another group

Emma Snaith
Saturday 30 March 2019 15:10 GMT
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The official Brexit campaign has dropped its appeal against a £61,000 fine for electoral spending offences during the EU referendum, the Electoral Commission has said.

Vote Leave was fined in July after the electoral watchdog concluded it broke legal spending limits by donating hundreds of thousands to pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave days before the EU referendum in 2016.

The Electoral Commission’s report found evidence that BeLeave spent more than £675,000 on the data analytics and voter targeting firm AggreateIQ, that should have been declared by Vote Leave.

Vote Leave appealed against the fine, claiming that its donation to BeLeave had been signed off by the commission and its findings were “politically motivated”.

However, in a statement released on Friday, the Electoral Commission said Vote Leave had withdrawn its appeal.

The announcement came as MPs rejected Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement on the day the UK was originally due to leave the EU.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “We found that it broke the electoral rules set out by parliament to ensure fairness, confidence and legitimacy at an electoral event.”

“Serious offences such as these undermine public confidence in our system and it is vital, therefore, that they are properly investigated and sanctioned.

“We have been advised that Vote Leave has paid its £61,000 fine and look forward to receiving the sum in full.”

Vote Leave was contacted for a response but did respond at the time of publication.

In a statement released to the Daily Mirror, the campaign said that it had dropped the appeal for financial reasons.

“For almost three years, Vote Leave has successfully fought back against numerous allegations and conspiracy theories, spending almost £1m in the process,” it said.

“Since July 2018, we have been preparing our appeal against the Electoral Commission’s unwarranted and unsubstantiated finding and fines.

“Sadly, we now find ourselves in a position that we do not have the financial resources to carry forward this appeal, even though we are confident that we would have prevailed on the facts in court.

“We have therefore regretfully decided to discontinue our appeal.”

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Following the Electoral Commission’s long-awaited report in July, Vote Leave official David Halsall was referred to the police in addition to the £61,000 fine.

Darren Grimes, the founder of BeLeave, was fined £20,000 and referred to the police.

Mr Grimes said on Twitter that he would continue his personal appeal “until my last f***ing penny”. He is crowdfunding his appeal and has raised almost £80,000 to cover the costs of the case.

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