If Vote Leave cheated, what should we do?

by Hugo Dixon | 25.03.2018

The 2016 referendum can’t be invalidated, even if the Leave campaign cheated. But the new evidence that has emerged in the last day strengthens the case for the people to vote on the Brexit deal Theresa May finally clinches.

The latest allegations suggest Vote Leave may have broken laws designed to limit spending during the referendum by funnelling cash through a supposedly independent campaign which may actually have been a puppet operation. The laws are there to help ensure a fair battle for the hearts and minds of the public.

The official Leave campaign was only allowed to spend £7 million during the referendum on things like advertising. Vote Leave gave BeLeave £625,000 in the last days of the referendum because it was bumping up against the £7 million spending limit. The key question is whether these two groups operated independently.

The Electoral Commission has no power to cancel the 2016 result. Even if it concludes that the law was broken, it can only impose fines and refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS could prosecute, but judges can’t force a new referendum either. They can merely impose penalties on anybody found guilty.

But Parliament and the public can take action if they believe our democracy has been polluted by cheating. It wouldn’t be sensible to order a rerun referendum. However, they could demand that the people get a vote on the Brexit deal.

The allegations have been made by three whistleblowers, one of them Shahmir Sanni, who was Be Leave’s secretary, treasurer and research director during the referendum. Sanni told Channel 4 News he still thinks the UK should quit the EU, “but I don’t agree with losing what it means to be British in that process; losing what it means to follow the rules; losing what it means to be quite literally a functioning democracy.”

Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, the mastermind behind its campaign, and Darren Grimes, the other key figure in BeLeave apart from Sanni, deny the allegations. Cummings told the Observer: “The allegations about illegal donations to BeLeave are false and are part of a campaign to cancel the referendum result.” Grimes told the paper any allegations he had done anything wrong were “damaging” and “untrue”.

Boris Johnson, the main face of Vote Leave, tweeted: “Observer/C4 story utterly ludicrous, #VoteLeave won fair & square – and legally.”

A key plank in Cummings’ defence is his allegation in a blog that the Electoral Commission gave Vote Leave the green light to make donations to BeLeave. But in evidence presented to the High Court, the Electoral Commission only said it was fine for Vote Leave to donate money to other campaigners and not report it as part of its own spending as long as it was donated “without having a co-ordinated plan”.

The key question then is whether Vote Leave and BeLeave were coordinating their activities. A pile of new evidence is now in the public domain. The key bits are published on Fair Vote, a new campaigning website. Voters can read the source material and make up their own minds. But, to me, the evidence looks pretty damning.

InFacts has published a second article detailing the key allegations and the evidence supporting them.

Hugo Dixon’s daughter works for Fair Vote.

Source material

  1. The Fair Vote website has much of the new evidence
  2. The Observer’s main news story
  3. The Observer’s long feature containing more information
  4. Shamir Sanni’s video interview with the Observer
  5. Channel 4’s main story
  6. The New York Times story
  7. Dominic Cummings’ blog
  8. Earlier evidence provided to High Court about links between Vote Leave and BeLeave
  9. High Court judgement on judicial review into the Electoral Commission
  10. Electoral Commission statement on opening an investigation into Vote Leave and Darren Grimes
  11. Buzzfeed story from August 2016

Want more InFacts?

Click here to get the newsletter

    Your first name (required)

    Your last name (required)

    Your email (required)

    Choose which newsletters you want to subscribe to (required)
    Daily InFacts NewsletterWeekly InFacts NewsletterBoth the daily and the weekly Newsletter

    By clicking 'Sign up to InFacts' I consent to InFacts's privacy policy and being contacted by InFacts. You can unsubscribe at any time by emailing [email protected]

    Edited by Bill Emmott

    9 Responses to “If Vote Leave cheated, what should we do?”

    • The whole situation undermines democracy ,their are connections between SCL and the conservatives and a close association between Johnson and Gove and cummings and this discredited company.If they are proved to have cheated any politicians with close associations should have to resign their seat and a thorough investigation be set up as to the ties between SCL/CambridgeAnalyitica/AIQ and any political party.I n such a serious situation I believe a vote of no confidence should be held followed by a general election and the choice of remainingin the EU must be put to the British public.It’s not just what this company has done to this country that appalls me it is other countries they have used their devious arts in that concern me ,it brings to mind Bell pottinger and their discredited reputation.

    • For the article 50 reading to be accepted by the EU requires that it was done in accordance with the democratic legislation of the country reading it, so If the referendum was not run in accordance with out legislation the article 50 reading was not valid, and the EU should not accept it as being read until such time as our legislation is followed correctly so that the reading will be in accordance with our legislation.

    • Don’t forget the ‘Leave.EU’ campaign – N Farage and A Banks et al.
      Somewhere I read (but can’t remember where!) that funds were channelled by/ from/ via Leave.eu to AggregateIQ – another back-channel to generate some dubious digital advertising and targeted pressures to voters to vote to leave. Seems to me this route just might be more probable than the official vote leave campaign (though both could have been culpable).
      The same article referred to funds from DUP also heading to AgregateIQ – same purpose – heavily pro-brexit. (Thinks: how many seats does DUP have in Stormont? Minority??)
      Channel4’s Gary Gibbon’s published a very informative wee book ‘Breaking Point”, very soon after the referendum (dated 16 July in the introduction) He traces the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of the referendum. Tellingly (page 46) he recounts going to Vote Leave’s HQ for a press conference the morning after the referendum. The ‘victors’ were far from happy (sharp contrast to Farage et al). It seems they did not expect to win. Boris is described as shell-shocked. I quote Gibbon: ‘I sidled up to one of the architects of Vote Leave. He said: “Fucking hell, we’ve gone and done it now’. They had never expected to win, and had done no ‘homework’, as has become very apparent ever since.
      Makes me strongly suspect much of the push and dodgy adverts may have come from Leave.EU with ‘help’ purchased from AIQ/CA?
      I have had grave suspicions about the Farage-Bannon-Trump connections for some time. Did they include a loop to CA/AIQ?

      Keep up the good work!

    • Every day that goes by the referendum and the Leave campaign become more and more discredited. However, there is now evidence of criminal offences having been committed, and there are strong calls for a full and thorough Police fraud investigation. I would suggest there are ample grounds for invalidating the result.

    • I can’t see why, if the law of the land was violated in the process, the referendum cannot be declared invalid but the law is a complex machine so no doubt this is so. The manner in which the result was translated into government action certainly begs very pertinent questions of legitimacy.

      There are many good reasons why the nation must be given a say in the final outcome. The nature of the final deal is quite clearly going to be far from anything promised or envisaged during the referendum campaign. The conduct of the government during the negotiations has been dismal to say the least and they have demonstrated plainly that they are not to be trusted with the final, unalterable implementation of an exit from the EU.

      In theory of course, the decision could, and perhaps should, be vested in the sovereignty of Parliament. In practice, as we know from all the evidence, the system of whips and party pressure cannot possible guarantee a fair and representative parliamentary vote. Such is the parlous state of politics in this country right now.

    • Is it a fact that Brexit cannot be challenged? The whole thing was a fiasco and not in any way a fair, balanced, and informed debate.

    • I agree, it cannot be that the referendum result is entirely fireproof and immune from invalidation. If someone is discovered to have cheated in an exam, it obviously invalidates the result. Britain cannot be sentenced if the conviction was unsafe.

    • It’s funny how everyone conveniently forgets the £9.3m the government spent on sending a leaflet to every home in Britain explaining why we should vote remain. How exactly are you all squaring that? How is it right that £16.3m was spent in support of the remain campaign? I agree that there should be a referendum at the end of the process on the deal. The question should be: Do you want to leave the EU with the deal negotiated with the EU or do you want to leave with no deal. All this nonsense about a remain option is undemocratic!

    • Vote Leave cheated, according to The OHCHR “The vote must be declared invalid where irregularities could have modified the (negative or positive) outcome of the vote.” We are signatory’s to the OHCHR, by it’s rules Brexit is invalid.

      OHCHR | Guidelines for Constitutional Referendums at National Level