Theresa May defends cabinet ministers involved in rule-breaking Vote Leave campaign

Mr Corbyn asks PM to 'guarantee that her cabinet ministers will fully co-operate with the police investigation'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 18 July 2018 17:31
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PMQs: May tells Corbyn to withdraw accusations against ministers over Vote Leave police investigation

Theresa May has defended Michael Gove and other cabinet ministers who helped run the Vote Leave campaign, despite a watchdog finding it broke referendum-spending rules.

Speaking at prime minister’s questions, Jeremy Corbyn demanded ministers cooperate with a police inquiry as he raised the Electoral Commission’s decision to fine the official Leave campaign operating during the EU referendum.

On Tuesday, the independent organisation said Vote Leave had coordinated illegally with another group and referred David Halsall, the “responsible person” for the group, to the Metropolitan Police for making false declarations of campaign spending.

Darren Grimes, the head of a separate youth Brexit group called BeLeave – which received a £675,000 donation from Vote leave – has also been referred to the police.

But Mr Corbyn asked Ms May to “guarantee that her cabinet ministers will fully co-operate with the police investigation” following the commission’s report into Vote Leave – fronted by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson during the 2016 campaign.

“People are losing trust in this government,” Mr Corbyn claimed. “The transport secretary, the international trade secretary and now the Brexit secretary were all members of the Vote Leave campaign committee. The environment secretary was co-chair.”

He continued: “They’ve been referred to the police by the Electoral Commission having refused to cooperate with the Electoral Commission.

“Will the prime minister guarantee that her cabinet ministers will fully cooperate with the police investigation?”

But Ms May asked Mr Corbyn to “withdraw” his comments in the Commons on individual members of the government, adding: “He has made an accusation in this House against members of this House. I suggest that when he stands up he reflects on whether or not it was correct to do so.

“The Electoral Commission is an independent regulator accountable to parliament not to the government - they have taken steps in relation to the Vote Leave campaign. I would expect all those involved and required to do so will give the evidence that is required.”

Pressed again on the issue, the prime minister said: “I still contend he made accusations against individual members of this government that were unjustified and he should withdraw them.”

After the commission published its findings on Tuesday, the senior Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said Vote Leave had been involved in “deliberate cheating” during the 2016 referendum campaign, which cast doubt on the Brexit result in the minds of the public

Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames also called for the electoral system to be “blown up and started all over again” in the wake of the “gross” findings by the Electoral Commission.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith added: “Electoral law exists to ensure fair campaigning and the Electoral Commission has determined that rules have been broken.

“Both Vote Leave and BeLeave have been fined and referred to the police. It would not be appropriate for the government to comment on ongoing police investigations.

“That electoral rules have been breached is rightly a cause for concern but that does not mean that the rules themselves were flawed.”

A Vote Leave spokesman said on Tuesday the Electoral Commission’s report contained “a number of false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny”.

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