Vote Leave did fiddle the books as well as the facts

by Sebastian O'Meara | 19.07.2018

The Electoral Commission has spoken and Vote Leave has been found fiddling the books. That is no huge surprise. Vote Leave’s former chief executive Matthew Elliott decided two weeks ago it would be a good idea to spike the Commission’s guns by announcing the results of its investigation himself.

But where does this leave us? There’s no doubt that the whole Leave campaign is increasingly looking less than transparent — this is just the latest shot across its bows. We’ve already seen a fine for Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU for incorrect reporting and exceeding spending limits, while investigations continue into a possible Russian connection, the misuse of data and the ultimate source of multimillion-pound donations. Serious questions have yet to be answered about how and why £425,000 was paid, anonymously at the time, through the DUP in Northern Ireland into the Brexit campaign in Britain.

Did all this funny money change the result? Who knows — although it will clearly have had an influence. But that’s perhaps not really the question here — the rules are there to protect the democratic process and those rules were repeatedly broken. That, as Chuka Umunna points out, constitutes “an affront to our democracy.” 

Will Vote Leave face further censure? Even the government – in the person of Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith responding to the Urgent Question in the Commons – seemed to intimate that electoral spending rules might have to be looked at in future. But that’s of little comfort for now. Certainly a fine of £61,000 seems like little more than a slap on the wrist, and while the ‘responsible person’ at Vote Leave – one David Alan Halsall – has been referred to the Metropolitan Police for possible further action, the experience of Leave.EU’s brush with the electoral authorities suggests that those wheels move slowly.

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Since the report came out, there have been numerous calls for a full public enquiry. We also should find out how much was known by all those involved in the campaign – including the many who serve or have served in senior roles in the current government. As for Vote Leave’s campaign director, Dominic Cummings, he’s been suspiciously shy about testifying before Parliament.

 But many would go further. For Labour’s Barry Sheerman, “we must now re-run a new untainted Referendum,” while from the Conservative side Sarah Wollaston agrees: “We cannot have confidence that this referendum was secure and it should be re-run,” she says.

Is there any chance of that happening? Legally, the position does not seem promising. Because the referendum was advisory, overturning the result becomes a purely political issue rather than a judicial one, and we may need some more revelations and a change of attitude before Parliament feels emboldened to reverse the result.

But one thing is certain – this news tarnishes what was a narrow result in a deeply divided country. All the more reason to give the electorate a meaningful voice on Brexit in a People’s Vote.

Edited by Quentin Peel

3 Responses to “Vote Leave did fiddle the books as well as the facts”

  • Tell us that Cameron and his pals were squeaky clean. I think not. Get over it remain lost and lost big. If they could not win with Cameron throwing the kitchen sink at it they had no chance.

  • “I think not” – perfect summation of your opinion vs. fact thought process. Lost big? 48% in a campaign that one side fought with subversion of democracy through overspending and outright lies – amongst deliberate hate and fear mongering against “others”?

    You’re a simpleton if you think that’s “winning big”.