Vote Leave gave £625,000 to a fashion design student in the days before the EU referendum to persuade young voters to opt for Brexit, it has been revealed.
According to Electoral Commission records, Vote Leave handed the substantial sum of money to 23-year-old Darren Grimes in the run up to 23 June, making him one of the best-funded unofficial campaigners of the entire EU referendum, reports The Times.
One Vote Leave individual gave Mr Grimes an additional £50,000, bringing the total amount of money acquired to £675,315. Vote Leave said the student was given the money because it was close to breaching its £7 million spending limit and, therefore, wanted to make sure all the money it had been given would be used, added The Times. The source also confirmed the amount had been cleared with the Electoral Commission.
Mr Grimes spent the money on the social media-driven campaign, BeLeave. Listed as an official Vote Leave outreach group, BeLeave sought to represent young people in the campaign for an Out vote by “putting forward an optimistic case for leaving.”
On its Facebook page, BeLeave said: “We believe in an optimistic vision of Britain and we hope to inspire a generation to make an informed and rational choice. We want to put forward the optimistic case for leaving - a truly global community, unlimited employment opportunities, and a future with unleashed potential.”
Despite being given the large sum of money to sway young voters, though, BeLeave managed to acquire only 6,300 Facebook likes and just 3,700 followers on Twitter.
Appearing in a Channel 4 News interview in the days after the Brexit result was announced, Mr Grimes said he was “absolutely thrilled” and “so proud” of the UK. He added: “I think we took power and gave it to individuals to make this decision. We decided to go forward as a Britain with global horizons, a Britain which is more internationalist, free trading, and I really look forward to an exciting future now.”
However, Mr Grimes was challenged by Sara Morrison, former vice chair of the Tory Party, who said she felt “deeply ashamed” at the way the campaigning went. She told Mr Grimes: “I’m very sorry that a young man like you have been so misguided. You will live to see it [the future] and I hope you don’t regret it.”
Mr Grimes replied: “I am absolutely certain that a Britain which can determine its own future is very much in our interest. As a young person, to decide to have a global future, and not a narrow-minded one, which focuses on one continent of the Earth, Britain is a global country.”
Vote Leave defended its donations and insisted it was within the rules. A spokesperson told i: “We are very happy with the campaigning he did. The campaigning was completely up to him. We were entitled to give money to him, which is what we did, and we won, so it couldn’t have been all bad, could it?”
The extent to which the country’s students were against Brexit in the EU referendum, however, was recently revealed in startling analysis which showed that, for every one who voted Leave, almost six voted Remain, according to research agency YouthSight.
Ebbi Ferguson, National Union of Students Wales deputy president, wrote for the Independent that the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds - about a million and a half people - were shut out of the vote was “an absolute disgrace.” She added: “NUS polls have shown around 75 per cent of them would have voted if given the chance - and it’s easy to see why. They’re going to have to live with the consequences of this decision for about 70 years, and it’ll affect every area of their lives from education, to jobs, to travel, to peace, and politics.”
She also added how “this can’t happen again,” explaining: “The next time there’s an opportunity to shape the future of our country, all young people must be at the heart of it.”
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