Brexit: Priti Patel urges Electoral Commission to investigate Remain campaign's Keira Knightley video

The former cabinet minister claims Britain Stronger in Europe may have breached spending limits

David Hughes
Monday 28 May 2018 09:58
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Keira Knightley appears in Remain campaign video ahead of EU referendum

Former cabinet minister Priti Patel has urged the Electoral Commission to investigate the Remain campaign's spending on a Keira Knightley video ahead of the EU referendum.

The Conservative MP, who was a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, has written to the watchdog about her "deep concerns" over possible breaches by the Britain Stronger in Europe group.

Ms Patel also questioned the impartiality of the Electoral Commission and suggested that it was holding the Remain campaign to a lower standard than the Leave campaign.

The "Don't F*** My Future" video featuring Pirates of the Caribbean star Keira Knightley urging people to vote was published on the Britain Stronger in Europe website and Facebook page in the final days before the vote in 2016.

It was produced by an advertising agency - along with a series also featuring designer Dame Vivienne Westwood and model Lily Cole - at a total cost of more than £76,000.

Ms Patel, who famously resigned as the international development secretary over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, said she had "deep concerns" about collusion between Remain-supporting organisations which may have allowed the official Britain Stronger in Europe campaign to breach the strict £7m spending limit.

In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Ms Patel said: "I am sure you share my deep concerns that Britain Stronger in Europe seems to have been provided with services by other Remain campaigns without declaring the expenditure in the appropriate way.

"There is evidence that many campaigns appear to have acted as a mere continuity of the official Remain campaign as it approached its spending limit, the most egregious example of this being the regrettably named 'Don't F*** My Future' campaign, which many different Remain organisations appear to have involved themselves in."

A previous call for an investigation by Ms Patel was rejected by the Electoral Commission, but she said a report in the Sunday Telegraph "suggests that the commission has decided to hold Leave campaigns to one standard, and Remain campaigners to another, much lower standard".

In her letter to the watchdog's head of regulation Louise Edwards, Ms Patel added: "I believe that the Electoral Commission has an important role to play in our democracy, but that role comes with an important responsibility - to be politically neutral at all times.

"If you want to restore confidence in the commission, you should either start a formal investigation into Britain Stronger in Europe, or show equity and end the investigation in Vote Leave."

A spokesman for Britain Stronger in Europe said: "Following hot on the heels of the dismissal of her previous complaint in December 2017, this demonstrates Priti Patel's complete lack of understanding of electoral law. It is common practice for campaigns to post third party content on social media."

The campaign said it was confident the complaint "would be dismissed as quickly and comprehensively as her other politically motivated and unsubstantiated claims have been".

"Britain Stronger in Europe always took our legal responsibilities seriously and have always followed the rules around working together, which has been backed up by the Electoral Commission," the spokesman said.

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: "We have not received the allegation formally yet but when we do we will consider it in line with our enforcement policy."

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