Official Brexit campaign ‘broke electoral law’ by coordinating with another group to bust spending limit

Data firm Aggregate IQ used the cash to target enough voters to potentially sway the referendum result, a whistleblower claims

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 04 July 2018 16:31 BST
Vote Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni calls for criminal investigation in electoral spending allegations

The Vote Leave campaign has been found guilty of busting referendum spending limits by co-ordinating illegally with another group, a leaked watchdog’s report says.

The Electoral Commission is expected to fine the official Brexit organisation – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – for breaching electoral law.

Its draft report is said to conclude there was collusion with a separate youth Brexit group called BeLeave, led by student Darren Grimes.

A £680,000 donation was passed on which, if recorded as part of Vote Leave’s referendum expenditure, would have taken the campaign’s spending over the £7m limit.

Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result, a whistleblower claimed

Mr Gove refused to comment on the commission’s conclusions, insisting he had not read its report – although it has been passed to Vote Leave, who made the findings public.

Matthew Elliott, Vote Leave’s former chief executive has submitted a 500-page dossier to the commission rebutting its conclusions, insisting it has not followed due process.

He claimed the watchdog had “listened to one side of the story”, telling the BBC: “We offered to go in for interviews, both at board level and at staff level. They haven’t accepted any interviews from our side.”

Mr Elliott insisted he thought Vote Leave had: “Acted both within the letter of the law and also the spirit of the law.”

According to the group’s dossier, the commission also found it guilty of making inaccurate returns and failing to submit all invoices and receipts, as well as exceeding its spending limit.

Earlier this year, whistleblower Christopher Wylie told an inquiry by MPs that BeLeave was effectively a money laundering vehicle to breach the £7million campaign spending limit.

Mr Wylie said Aggregate IQ had a conversion rate of between 5 per cent and 7 per cent – and targeted five to seven million people for the referendum.

“I think it is completely reasonable to say there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he told MPs.

Shahmir Sanni, a former Vote Leave volunteer, alleged they had offered advice and assistance to BeLeave and helped them to decide where their cash would be spent.

Mr Gove, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, suggested the commission’s findings would be contested in the courts.

“If it’s going to be challenged legally, if it is going to go through the courts, it would be inappropriate for me – not having read the report – to offer a commentary on it,” he said.

A spokesperson for the commission noted the “unusual step taken by Vote Leave” in going public with its initial findings.

It said it would give “due considerations” to the group’s protests before publishing a “thorough and detailed closing report in order to provide a full and balanced account”.

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