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Brexit 'Vote Leave' campaign fined and referred to police

July 26, 2019

The UK's Electoral Commission said the Vote Leave Brexit campaign resisted its investigation and refused to cooperate. Some of those involved in Vote Leave have joined Boris Johnson's government.

Boris Johnson Brexit Referendum Kampagne
Image: picture-alliance/empics/S. Rousseau

The British Electoral Commission issued a statement on Thursday to update its report on the investigation into the leading organization behind the campaign to gain voter support for the UK to leave the European Union, including multimillion-pound claims on the side of a bus that turned out to be false. 

Vote Leave was fined £61,000 (€68,000 / $76,000) and referred to the police for breaking electoral law after the group "exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000," according to the commission.

"Vote Leave also returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending," the commission found.

The commission referred David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending.

The Brexit campaign led to years of political division in Britain
The Brexit campaign led to years of political division in BritainImage: AFP/Getty Images/D. Leal-Olivas

The independent body, set up in 2001 by the British Parliament, said it had "also shared its investigation files with the Metropolitan Police in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences which lie outside the Commission's regulatory remit."

Read moreBoris Johnson to face court on Brexit campaign comments

Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission's chief executive, said that it followed evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning by Vote Leave and the associated BeLeave group: "We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums. Our findings relate primarily to the organisation which put itself forward as fit to be the designated campaigner for the 'leave' outcome."

"Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence," Posner said. "Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report."

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave event in 2016
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave event in 2016Image: picture-alliance/S. Rousseau

The Times reported on Thursday that Matthew Elliot, former CEO of Vote Leave and founder of the TaxPayers' Alliance, would be joining the new finance minister, Sajid Javid, at the Treasury, while Dominic Cummings, former campaign director of Vote Leave, has acted as a special adviser to Boris Johnson, now UK prime minister. He also worked as special adviser to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The report brought some strong reactions from veteran political editor Robert Peston:

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that Cummings would also have a role overseeing the recruitment of special advisers who counsel ministers.

jm/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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