“Vote Leave broke electoral law” – EU referendum needs to be annulled and re-run

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I’m sure readers can think of examples where election results have been declared invalid by the courts and had to be re-run.

The classic example was the 1997 Winchester election. At the general election, the returning officer declared Mark Oaten the winner by two votes. The court accepted the former Tory MP’s case that the failure by the returning officer’s staff to stamp 55 ballot papers with an official mark, leading to their rejection, cost him a win – also by two votes.

The election was re-run in the 1997 Winchester by-election. I remember calling on someone’s door at 15 minutes before polls closed saying “There’s only two votes in it – your vote could be crucial”.

We won by 21,556.

As the Guardian reports:

Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 after being found guilty of breaking electoral law during the Brexit campaign. Two people have been referred to the police.

Therefore, there is a clear case that the June 23rd 2016 EU referendum result was flawed. It should be declared invalid and re-run.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • John Marriott 18th Jul '18 - 9:22am

    How can you possibly compare a Parliamentary by election costing the tax payers a few thousands to run with a referendum costing ( including campaign spending) millions? In any case, I doubt whether the ‘overspend’ by Leave would have made any difference.

    As Brenda of Bristol would probably say; “Another election? Oh, not again!”

    I know we are entering the ‘Silly Season’; but surely, in those famous worlds, Mr Walter can’t be serious?

  • Bill le Breton 18th Jul '18 - 9:43am

    Yes, it is a serious breach but in terms of electioneering and its practicalities Winchester and similar situations when defeated candidates or causes try to re-run things based on rule book challenge, provides a very good lesson.

    In the 97 General Election the Lib Dems won the Winchester constituency by 26,100 votes to 26098. The result in the re-run, was Lib Dem 37,006, Tory 15,450.

    That kind of reaction is not untypical.

    The situation is extremely febrile and dangerous without adding this kind of petrol to the situation.

  • And would you be demanding a re-run if the result had gone the other way?

    Because I’m sure you realise that you don’t look like an impartial observer whose only concern is that the correct procedures were followed; you look like someone searching for some means, any means, to overturn the ‘wrong’ result.

    To most of the rest of the country, this is a big ‘So what?’ So the Leave campaign overspent, a wee bit. The Remain campaign still spent many millions more than the Leave campaign, and had the Prime Minister and the government machinery on its side as well as all the party leaderships (even if only nominally in Labour’s case) and most of the media.

    The Leave campaign were definite underdogs, and they still won. Nobody’s going to change their opinion because of a tiny-in-comparison-with-what-the-Remain-campaign-spent overspend.

    in my view such a re-run could be concurrently run with a national vote on the deal for Brexit.

    But what happens then if the re-run of the referendum has a Remain result, but the vote on the deal has a Remain result, or vice-versa? You could end up in a situation that makes no sense.

  • David Evans 18th Jul '18 - 9:53am

    Yes Paul, we are all appalled by what has happened, but the key question is what are we going to do about it and how do we get people to notice. We are still barely registering on Brexit and Monday’s fiasco didn’t help.

    How can we improve if we never acknowledge our real mistakes and face up to the fact that we need to want to change if we really want to change things?

  • David Becket 18th Jul '18 - 10:02am

    There is no case for a rerun of a flawed referendum. It does however strengthen the case for a further referendum once the options are known.

  • The analogy with Winchester in ’97 is not appropriate. The Conservative’s won their case that the administrative failure of polling station staff had frustrated the will of voters. There are plenty of examples of the Electoral Commission fining Parties for failures to declare full election expenses. Taking the matter further only arises when the scale of such activity may have had a material impact on the result. We may see such an outcome in Thanet where the sheer scale of alleged overspending and failure to declare it in expenses returns may cause the election to be re-run. This is the one where Nigel Farage was defeated by the Tories. Vote Leave have breached the law. It is very difficult to argue that the scale of overspend had a material impact on the result. I speak as a committed Remain supporter and an advocate of the People’s Vote.

  • Due process has not been followed in this case. The leaders of Vote Leave, who consistently denied the allegations, were not interviewed. The Electoral Commission said they had “sufficient evidence without – a phrase redolent of the Stasi. Meanwhile similar allegations of larger overspending by Britain Stronger in Europe have not been investigated…

    ‘In full: Priti Patel’s dossier to the Electoral Commission on possible Remain campaign overspending’:


    As this evidence reveals, there is clear reason to believe that Britain Stronger in Europe avoided breaching its spending limits by channeling funds through smaller Remain campaigns which were set up less than a month before the referendum vote. These campaigns received donations for figures who were known to Britain Stronger in Europe, shared advertising agencies, promoted each other’s adverts and exhibited no clear difference in their messaging – all evident indications of a ‘common plan’. All this evidence is far more serious than the accusations made at Vote Leave.

  • “The leaders of Vote Leave, who consistently denied the allegations, were not interviewed.”

    That’s because they ducked and weaved repeatedly to avoid an interview, then had the gall to complain” Much like the child who murders his parents then demands to be excused punishment because he’s an orphan!

  • John Marriott 18th Jul '18 - 1:14pm

    Talk of the famous rerun of the 1997 Winchester Parliamentary Election reminds me of Mark Oaten’s Tory opponent, the previously sitting MP, one Gerry Malone. Some of you may recall that this gentleman, following the less than smooth trial run of the Poll Tax in Scotland, urged the 1991 (?) Tory conference to back a launch of this controversial measure in England as soon as possible.

    We remember Mr Oaten for reasons other than political. I wonder whether we still remember what Mr Malone and his cronies were responsible for?

  • John Marriott 18th Jul ’18 – 9:22am:
    In any case, I doubt whether the ‘overspend’ by Leave would have made any difference.

    In the context of the large sums spent by both sides it isn’t likely to be significant.

    ‘Remain campaign outspent Leave by £5m in EU referendum’ [February 2017]:

    Figures released by the [Electoral Commission] showed that a total of more than £32 million was spent on the campaign, making the Brexit battle the most expensive referendum campaign ever in British political history.

    Details of groups which spent £250,000 or more, released on Friday, showed the major Remain campaigns splashing out almost £16.2 million, compared to £11.5 million for Leave. When combined with details of smaller spenders released last November, this means the Remain campaign outspent Leave by a margin of £19,070,566 to £13,436,241.

  • In addition to the official Remain campaign spending, some £9.4 million of public funds was spent on the government booklet urging every household to vote Remain. Such spending contravenes Council of Europe rules for conducting referendums…

    ‘European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission): Code of Good Practice on Referendums’:

    3.1. Freedom of voters to form an opinion

    a. Administrative authorities must observe their duty of neutrality (see 1.2.2.a. above), which is one of the means of ensuring that voters can form an opinion freely.

    b. Contrary to the case of elections, it is not necessary to prohibit completely intervention by the authorities in support of or against the proposal submitted to a referendum. However, the public authorities (national, regional and local) must not influence the outcome of the vote by excessive, one-sided campaigning. The use of public funds by the authorities for campaigning purposes must be prohibited.

  • Given the magnitude of consequences of this crime

    What consequences, given that it almost certainly made no difference to the result?

  • Leave supporters have consistently argued that it was not an advisory referendum

    Actually I think the Leave argument has always been that it was a legally advisory referendum, but the government had pledged to respect the result and therefore was bound by its manifesto promise (not by law) to give effect to that (advisory) result.

  • Bless the brave Brexiteers have been caught cheatting, but never mind everyone cheats. Actually we don’t so don’t compare us with you, some of us have morals and principles alas few Brexiteers appear too. Tick tock my brave Brexiteers your dream is coming true and how it frightens you, forced to take responsiblity at last, I’m afraid it will be the poltical death of you.

  • Tick tock my brave Brexiteers your dream is coming true and how it frightens you

    Actually I think you’ll find what frightens Leave voters is the possibility that even now we might find ourselves, thanks to parliamentary shenanigans, staying in the EU.

    The sound you will hear on the 30th of March next year will be a vast sigh of relief from Leavers that it’s finally over, and we can turn to the bright future.

  • clive englisjh 18th Jul '18 - 5:08pm

    There is pretty little doubt that leave cheated and remain did not within the legal definitions of cheating anyway despite some heroic denials by a contributor above . However re-running an election or any other poll because of a technical flaw rarely changes the outcome, it just gets people upset like any other “unnecessary election”
    We wont change Brexit by adopting sharp practices, as the electorate would see them, ourselves despite the fact that Farage and co would almost certainly do so if they had lost..

  • Bless Dav it isn’t a football match the consequences will go on for years and you will have to explain them to people who didn’t get their own private Brexit or a bright future. You will become the scape goats for everything that didn’t happen no matter how ludicrous. All bad things will be laid at your door much like you laid them at the EU’s door. Boots on the other foot and some of us will take great pleasure on wearing that particular boot out.

  • Boots on the other foot and some of us will take great pleasure on wearing that particular boot out

    If you say so. I was just pointing out that Leave voters are not, in fact, scared of leaving.

    (Do you ever wake up, in the night, covered in sweat, from a nightmare in which it’s twenty years in the future and a newly-independent Britain is enjoying a resurgence as a successful global player?)

  • Ere no Dav I don’t, but it is telling you have to use a timeframe of twenty years. To get to that point much pain would needed to be inflicted and you will have to explain it to those that suffer it. You have taken responsiblity and how that will weigh on you. Unacostumed as most Brexiteers are to that, anything that happens is your fault, no longer will blaming the EU pass muster. Nissan leaves Sunderland, well explain that, we get poorer well explain that, all that explination will wear you down unused as Brexiteers are to taking responsibility and falling back on blaming others will only get you do far.

    Remember Dav you can’t even manage to arrange a march without foreign help and they won’t be helping you anymore. As far as they are concerned job done move on.

  • There isn’t going to be a re-run or a “people’s vote”. There simply are not enough MPs willing to deliver either. This is basically a handful of remainers waving frantically as the tide takes them ever further out to sea.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '18 - 6:51pm

    Brilliant, Frankie: ‘unacostumed as most Brexiteers are’ – just like the Emperor with no clothes then! How true! We’re entitled to have a laugh now and then, to relieve the tears at the way this Government is lurching on the brink of ruining our country.

  • March 1929 – Italy approves single-party list for Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in referendum.
    July 1933 – Hitler grants himself the power to hold referendums.
    November 1933 – Germans vote to leave the League of Nations in referendum.
    March 1934 – Italians confirm approval of single-party list for Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in referendum.
    August 1934 – Germans approve combining posts of Chancellor & President in referendum.
    March 1936 – Germany approve single-party rule & occupation of Rhineland in referendum.
    April 1938 – Germans approve single list of Nazi candidates for Reichstag & Anschluss with Austria in referendum.

    Comment is superfluous.

  • Frankie,

    Godwin’s Law is an Internet adage asserting that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1″—​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.

    It is more often than not fatuous to introduce Hitler analogies as Ken Livingstone learn’t to his cost.

    Switzerland abandoned centuries of political isolation in a 2002 referendum to join the United Nations. The 1998 Good Friday agreement was brought about by a referendum in Northern Ireland and the Republic. All of the East European accession states held referendums in 2003 on joining the EU, as did the UK in 1975.

    No UK government could realistically proceed with a major constitutional change like withdrawing from EU membership without the foundation of a public plebiscite.

    The argument for a public vote on the deal and remaining in the EU has to be won on the basis of tangible and deliverable benefits for all of the voting public, not on obscure technicalities. As Churchill put it – “no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.”

  • As the tide drags us nearer and nearer to a hard Brexit and someone will have to explain why he voted for that. A little difficult when they are on record as saying “Not much will change”. Doesn’t look like you will be getting your own personal Brexit Glenn, bless if only you’d known that when you voted for it. Still cheer up you will be in the majority of Brexiteers, damm few will be getting their version of Brexit.

    PS I’d only be using the excuse “This isn’t my version of Brexit” among your fellows, it’s unlikely to go down well with people who didn’t vote for this farce.

    PPS I expect what is driving the brave Brexiteers is a believe once Brexit is confirmed it will be over and we will all be friends again. Unfortunately Brexit day only ramps up the consequences and forgive and forget is unlikely to be the first thing to pop into the minds of those that suffer because of it.

  • Joe,
    Democracy only works if you accept people can change their minds. That appears to be beyond the wit of many Brexiteers who bang on about the the “will of the people”. Is it the will of “the people” that we are in the mess we are in and still have no plan, perhaps the people need to be asked that?

  • Frankie.
    As I’ve said to you many times. I simply do not support the concept of the EU. Anyway, I’m not getting into this with you again.

  • For me the main reason for NOT seeking a rerun of the 2016 referendum is that it’s actually impossible. It would obviously involve giving people the opportunity to show how they would have voted had they known firstly that all the main planks of the Leave campaigns were false and secondly that these campaigns also appear to have broken the law. All fine and dandy, but for a valid result to a rerun voters would also have to be asked to put aside all knowledge of the true nature of Brexit that they have acquired over the past two years, which is patently not possible. The ‘rerun’ would be a new referendum of how people would vote now taking everything into consideration. As such it would be premature; that question can only meaningfully be asked when ‘everything’ is known, i.e the final deal is on the table.

  • Democracy only works if you accept people can change their minds

    Except, apparently, about being in the EU. Once you’re in nobody’s allowed to change their mind about that.

  • @ Dav. To be quite clear about where I stand, I voted to remain and I still believe that would be the best outcome. However, I am a democrat and so should a referendum on the final deal – or a GE held specifically on the issue – deliver a majority in favour of leaving, I would accept that as a democratic decision of the British people.
    From the tone of your comments on this thread, it seems to me that your concern is that the majority would vote to remain in the EU, and that you prefer to have people denied the opportunity to say they have changed their minds. That doesn’t seem like democracy to me.

  • From the tone of your comments on this thread, it seems to me that your concern is that the majority would vote to remain in the EU

    Oh, no, I’m sure they wouldn’t. I just think that it would be a pointless and massively expensive exercise to confirm something that was decided two years ago, just because some people didn’t like the result.


    should a referendum on the final deal […] deliver a majority in favour of leaving, I would accept that as a democratic decision of the British people

    Why should we trust that? People said before the 2016 referendum that they would accept the result as a democratic decision of the British people; but then as soon as the result went the way they didn’t like, they objected and started saying we needed another referendum to ‘confirm’ it.

    I don’t see any reason to think the same thing wouldn’t happen again.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '18 - 11:49am

    @Payasoru “I am a democrat and so should a referendum on the final deal – or a GE held specifically on the issue – deliver a majority in favour of leaving, I would accept that as a democratic decision of the British people.”
    But in 2017 we had a general election.
    The Tories won that general election standing on a manifesto that stated, “Following the historic referendum on 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. … As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.”
    Labour stood on a manifesto that stated, “Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first. We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, provide certainty to EU nationals and give a meaningful role to Parliament throughout negotiations.”
    So that was 82% of the voters, 56% of the electorate, voting for parties that want to move forward with Brexit.

    I don’t think that Lib Dems have helped their cause (either that of the party or the Remain campaign) with comments about democracy and acknowledging the result of the referendum that just sound like sophistry. Stating that the outcome of the referendum was wrong and for the long-term good of the UK it should be overturned would at least be a very clear and unambiguous position (which has been implied anyway!). Coupled with a positive case for EU membership (instead of Brexiteer-bashing, more Project Fear, and emphasising that we’re more tightly bound to the EU than anyone wanted to admit), then perhaps progress could be made.
    Couldn’t be worse than the approach followed so far, anyway!

  • Payasoru
    Major took us in without any kind of referendum. So for twenty odd years people were not even given a say in a substantial constitutional and societal change. IMO this was mainly because pro EU people knew they would have lost in the early 1990s. Opposition to the EU kicked off almost immediately after Maastricht. The point being that if you want another referendum you’ve first got to elect a government willing to hold it. But there is no reason that the Out camp should make it any easier for the opposition than the In camp ever did.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '18 - 2:42pm

    @Glenn “IMO this was mainly because pro EU people knew they would have lost in the early 1990s.”
    To be fair, I think most Lib Dem MPs backed a referendum on the Maastricht treaty at that time, and years later the official party line supported an In/Out referendum to let people have their say. Unfortunately however, given the cold feet and lack of preparedness when such a referendum came along and the reaction to it since, with hindsight that position now looks more like cynical posturing to exploit divisions in the Labour and Conservative parties.

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