3 more claims that point to Vote Leave cheating

by Hugo Dixon | 13.04.2018

A new whistleblower has produced evidence that Vote Leave may have broken referendum laws by funnelling cash through a puppet operation. Further damning claims from Chris Wylie, the original Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, have also been published.

Mark Gettleson, who provided Vote Leave with strategic and communications support in the early days of the referendum, says the official Leave campaign paid him to create the BeLeave website, suggesting it was not an independent operation. His claims reinforce those made last month by another whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni.

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.

Graphic showing potential overspend

Gettleson’s lawyer says: “His evidence demonstrates how closely linked the Vote Leave and BeLeave campaigns were during the period he worked there, and leading counsel relied on this evidence in coming to conclusions that there are grounds to suspect overspending offences in the referendum.”

Evidence supporting Gettleson’s claims has been published on the Fair Vote website. A submission from two QCs and a barrister to the Electoral Commission summarising and analysing the claims of the three whistleblowers has also been published. In this, Gettleson is identified as “J”. There are three new important allegations.

‘Vote Leave paid Gettleson to create BeLeave website’

Gettleson says he conceived the name “BeLeave” in February 2016 and that BeLeave was intended to be an entity which would “sit within Vote Leave and not be an independent organisation” (para 54). He adds that “Vote Leave gave him the task of creating the BeLeave website, for which he was paid by Vote Leave” (para 56).

An email exchange between Gettleson and various Vote Leave staff just after the referendum supports this claim. In it, Gettleson submits an invoice for his work and, when asked for more detail about what he did, lists a series of tasks, the first of which is “BeLeave campaign concept and website.”

(Fair Vote)

‘AIQ admitted its work was “totally illegal”’

Vote Leave directed its £625,000 BeLeave donation to Aggregate IQ (AIQ), a Canadian data group joined at the hip to Cambridge Analytica. It spent £2.7 million itself on advertising through the firm.

Wylie says Jeff Silvester, AIQ’s co-founder, told him in April 2017 (paras 120-122) that:

  • The BeLeave campaign was “totally illegal”.
  • AIQ had not “siloed” its programmes for Vote Leave and BeLeave.
  • AIQ had “briefed Vote Leave staff about the strategy and results” of its programme for BeLeave.
  • “Vote Leave had consulted with AIQ on how [its donation to BeLeave] should be spent.”
  • “Since AIQ had access to ad programmes for Vote Leave and BeLeave, they optimised both to make sure there were not redundancies.”

‘Cummings advised Grimes how to deal with Electoral Commission’

Wylie say he introduced both Darren Grimes and Sanni, the two main figures in BeLeave, to Vote Leave. Dominic Cummings was Vote Leave’s campaign director.

Wylie says that after the referendum Grimes told him that “he was being given advice” by Cummings “on how he should deal with the [Electoral] Commission and the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office]”, both of whom were probing what had happened (para 125).

What now?

The three latest claims come on top of Sanni’s original six:

  • BeLeave had no control over the money it was given.
  • Vote Leave advised BeLeave what to do.
  • Vote Leave had access to BeLeave’s documents.
  • BeLeave was based at Vote Leave HQ.
  • Vote Leave and BeLeave deleted information.
  • Vote Leave advised BeLeave what to tell the press.

The claims also follow on from Facebook’s statement last week that its data on 1.1 million Brits may have been “improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica”. This set off alarm bells that information harvested from Brits’ Facebook profiles may have been used to manipulate voters in the Brexit referendum.

The lawyers say in their submission to the Electoral Commission that there is a “prima facie” case that Vote Leave committed offences (para 10). They say there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that offences were “committed with the knowledge, assistance and agreement of Mr Cummings.” They also say there are “reasonable grounds” for the Commission to investigate whether any offences by Vote Leave were “committed with the knowledge, assistance and agreement of other senior figures/officers in Vote Leave”. If so, they would be “guilty of conspiring to commit those offences” (para 12).

It is now less than a year before Brexit becomes irreversible. There is already a strong case that the people should have a vote on the outcome of the talks and the option to stay in if they don’t like it. Voters need to know whether we are being wrenched out of the EU in part on the basis of a campaign that flouted electoral laws. The Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office must get cracking.

InFacts asked Vote Leave, Cummings, Grimes and AIQ for comment on the new claims, but had not received any replies by time of publication.

Hugo Dixon’s daughter works for Fair Vote.

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    Edited by Bill Emmott

    2 Responses to “3 more claims that point to Vote Leave cheating”

    • Even if the referendum is shown as a “fix”, no one in authority has the guts to call for it to be canceled /re-run. They fear, probably correctly, that the right-wing press would cause such a stink that there would be rioting on the streets.
      An acceptable way out of this is for those concerned about the legality of the referendum to strongly support a vote on the final terms, with a revert to EU membership if the terms are unacceptable. This would kill two birds with one stone and probably avoid organized rioting. It would also be fair….which is what we were once famous for.

    • Unfortunately things have moved on since the referendum. Leave supporters now claim that, because both the Tories and Labour had a commitment to leave the EU in their manifestos and 80% of votes went to one or other of the major parties, 80% of British voters now support leaving. This is, of course, as much of a lie as the original Leave campaign, but it does mean that there is no chance of getting the original vote overturned and a referendum on the terms of a proposed deal is probably the only way to prevent a disaster.