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Did Electoral Commission do half job on Vote Leave spending?

by Luke Lythgoe | 14.12.2017

The Guardian has revealed hidden depths to Vote Leave’s referendum spending, until now hidden from the public. The next question is whether the Electoral Commission knew about it, or whether the watchdog did half a job in its investigation last year. If the latter, then its new investigation needs to be far more thorough.

Here’s what we already knew. Vote Leave paid £625,000 to Darren Grimes, founder of a smaller pro-Brexit campaign called BeLeave. The entirety of this was paid directly by Vote Leave to their social media consultancy of choice, Canadian firm AggregateIQ (AIQ), on Grimes’ behalf. Vote Leave also spent roughly 40% of their referendum expenditure with AIQ.

Under electoral law there could be an offence if Vote Leave colluded with smaller campaigns to funnel more money than spending limits allowed into AIQ with a common strategy in mind. That’s what the Electoral Commission is investigating.

The Guardian has now revealed that the other donor to Grimes’ campaign, hedge fund manager Anthony Clake, was told by Vote Leave to donate to Grimes because their own campaign was “close to their spending limits”. There’s no suggestion of wrongdoing by Clake. But his comments to the Guardian expose a deeper collusion around donors and funding than was originally thought.

Should the Electoral Commission have unearthed this? Well, the watchdog knew from correspondence with Grimes that: a) Clake had donated £50,000 to Grimes and £40,000 to Vote Leave over two days towards the end of the referendum campaign; and b) the money had been paid directly from Clake to AIQ.

The obvious next step would have been to question Clake. He would probably have revealed – as he did to the Guardian – that the donation to Grimes was on Vote Leave’s behest. If this didn’t happen, then the watchdog missed a simple step to uncovering a deeper layer of spending collusion between the Leave campaigns.

The Electoral Commission told InFacts it wouldn’t comment on something that was part of an ongoing investigation. Neither Clake, Grimes nor Vote Leave responded to our enquiries, though Vote Leave told the Guardian that they had “complied with both the spirit and the letter of the Electoral Commission’s rules and the spending limits” and will continue to assist in the investigation.

In light of these latest revelations, it appears the watchdog needs to dig deeper if it is to uncover the full extent of Vote Leave’s spending. The public need to know once and for all whether any laws were broken to secure the Brexit vote.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Did Electoral Commission do half job on Vote Leave spending?”

  • This sounds more like a job for the Fraud Squad to do a deep and vigorous investigation into the allegation and all the dubious characters involved, particularly Grimes and his involvement.

  • I am certain that various means were used to try getting around spending restrictions, but I also suspect that whoever is investigating this is in collusion with the leave lot, and will do as little as they can get away with.
    The electoral commission also did nothing about the incorrect daily onslaught on Jeremy Corbyn, in the Daily Mail and the Sun, both owned by leave supporters.
    The electoral commission also did absolutely nothing about checking the veracity of information promoted daily in all media, to the electorate, that was clear lies including the red bus messages, and farages posters of so called immigrants, full of photo shopped refugees, from outside the EU. Tory corruption knows no bounds.