Vote Leave cheated – and its main spokespeople are in running to become PM

Last July, more than two years after the EU referendum delivered a narrow victory for the Leave campaign. the Electoral Commission published a report in which they outlined how the campaign had broken electoral law. 

The Commission found that Vote Leave had illegally colluded with BeLeave, a campaign run by Darren Grimes:

  • All Mr Grimes’ and BeLeave’s spending on referendum campaigning was incurred under a common plan with Vote Leave. Vote Leave should have declared the amount of joint spending in its referendum spending return and therefore failed to deliver a complete campaign spending return.

  • Vote Leave’s referendum spending was £7,449,079.34, exceeding its statutory spending limit of £7 million.

  • Vote Leave’s spending return was inaccurate in respect of 43 items of spending, totalling £236,501.44. Eight payments of over £200 in Vote Leave’s return did not have an invoice or receipt with them. These payments came to £12,849.99.

  • As an unregistered campaigner, BeLeave exceeded its spending limit of £10,000 by more than £666,000.

  • Mr Grimes delivered an inaccurate and incomplete spending return in his capacity as an individual campaigner.

  • Veterans for Britain’s inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave.

  • Vote Leave failed to comply with an investigation notice issued by the Commission.

In total the levels of fines are £61,000 for Vote Leave, £20,000 for Mr Grimes and £250 for Veterans for Britain.

We conducted a thorough and fair investigation. We requested and received evidence from a range of individuals and sources, including from Vote Leave and Mr Grimes. The individuals and the campaign groups investigated by us were all invited to be interviewed and to provide us with evidence. Vote Leave declined to be interviewed. Its lack of cooperation is reflected in the penalties.

How Vote Leave squealed and complained at the time. They had been wronged, they said and were confident that this decision would be overturned.

And then, on the day we should have left the European Union, in an ironic and cynical twist, this happened:

So they broke the law.

And, of course, the people who fronted that campaign will of course be in disgrace, won’t they?

Errr, no.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are the two frontrunners to become the next Prime Minister.

That’s right. The two frontrunners for the Conservative leadership, who could be PM in months, were part of a campaign that broke the law. It also disgracefully produced leaflets which suggested Turkey was about to join the EU and its entire population were going to come and live here. That should be enough to deny anyone elected office on its own, even without the illegality.

This news should make us more comfortable about revoking Article 50 and getting on with our lives.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • All of this is undoubtably true, but the best you’ll get out of a Lexi or a Brexi spokesperson is “They all cheated, so let’s move on”. Only reality will change their views and even then most will continue to hark on about “Twould have been fine if they’d had my personal Brexit” or “Poorness is well worth having to keep furrins out of my little village”. This isn’t a reflection on voters, it is a summation of those that bang on about “Knowing the will, of the people”, they don’t, anymore than do I.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Mar '19 - 7:39pm

    This really comes down to who one believes.
    I met one person who thought that there would be an EU army.
    I explained about NATO, about the collapse of a similar idea in the 1950s and that this was very unlikely to happen.
    So who did she believe? Nigel Farage fitted in with her existing thinking.

  • Do we know whether any of the donations broke the rules? Like donations from non-UK sources?

  • Richard O'Neill 31st Mar '19 - 12:59am

    One thing confuses me.

    You can either be in favour of a people’s vote or revoking article 50 unilaterally. These are not complementary positions. It is one or the other. They are complete opposites.

    At the moment there are not enough votes in Parliament for either.

    I totally agree about Gove or Johnson, who aside from the European question are totally unsuited to lead either their party or country. At the moment it is unlikely that either will make it through the MP’s ballot to actually go into the run-off with the members.

  • I’m with ‘Frankie’ on this; it will make absolutely no difference.
    After all,, every promise about ‘having our cake and eating it’, ‘we hold all the cards’, ‘the easiest deal ever’, etc., etc., have been shown to be false; and still they believe.

    The latest excuse I’ve been given is how “Donald Trump offered to negotiate and, had we accepted his offer, he would’ve got us what we wanted”.

    What is it about, “There are none so blind…etc.”

  • The problem is that people do not know what they want. At least they all want different things.

  • @Tom, I believe a sizeable chunk of the Leave campaign money came via the DUP, but loopholes for Northern Ireland meant that the DUP didn’t have to declare where this came from. My hazy recollection of how this was covered previously was that this particular loophole has now been closed, but it won’t apply retrospectively, which some had campaigned for, so we are left wondering with no evidence. This was a potential route for substantial sums of foreign money to be used in the campaign, but won’t be available in the event of a future referendum. Although I’m sure that the sort of people who might try to interfere with our democracy will be working on another route for their money.

    I see people insist that the overspending is irrelevant, that it didn’t change their personal mind, or bang on about that leaflet. But the point stands that some people did change their mind as the referendum day approached, and the source and content of the leaflet was fully transparent. And of course the anti-EU media made sure to tell their readers how terrible the leaflet was before they’d had been delivered, so it’s not as if it was given a chance to reverse some of those lies about bananas, or sausages, or whatever.

    The notable thing here is, as Caron points out, that two very senior Tory MPs have wilfully clouded the waters on this one. Their involvement and defence of the campaign should be a huge political scandal. I’m loathe to pin it all on the media – after all, so much is going on that it’s hard to turn any of the scandals into more than a bullet point in the latest Brexit developments, but this really is a big deal and should be treated as a big deal.

    I can’t help but wonder if the decision not to appeal was held back for a time when there was so much else going on that even the anti-Brexit press would be talking about other things. While we’re on the subject, I’m deeply suspicious of the timing of the ‘leak’ that there was a new coup against May late last Saturday.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Mar '19 - 10:40am

    Gisela Stuart chaired Vote Leave and was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show (BBC1 31/3/2019) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gisela_Stuart. She was defiant and wanted a change in the law prior to another referendum.
    The review of the newspapers included comment on the whistle-blower who has reportedly suffered, losing his job. I remember him being interviewed on TV. He continued to support Leave but, most importantly, WANTED THE TRUTH TO BE OUT.
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/24/brexit-whistleblower-shahmir-sanni-interview-vote-leave-cambridge-analytica

  • Peter Martin 31st Mar '19 - 10:47am

    The establishment don’t like it when they lose. The “in” side in 1975 had a factor of ten more spending power than the “out” side. Where were the checks and balances to create a level playing field then? The calls that the referendum was rigged fell on deaf ears.

    Has anyone mentioned that the Lib Dems have been fined too?

    https://news.sky.com/story/liberal-democrats-fined-18-000-over-eu-referendum-campaign-breaches-11177197

    But does this matter much? In 1975 both sides were reliant on the conventional media. It cost money to place ads and get their message out. Now, with the rise of social media, money is much less important.

  • The problem for Brexi’s and Lexi’s is all their pronouncements have come to nought, the EU havn’t blinked, we hold no cards, etc, etc. But faced with this deluge of facts they retreat to delusion. They will whitter on about made up statistics, codwollop economic theories, anything rather than face up to the fact an idiot stares back at them in the mirror. The problem they have is that a majority of the young think them fools, those that have not nailed their colours to the mast are drifting away and a failure to achieve Bexit works against them. Paradoxically the best Bexit they can have is no Brexit, at least then people might think “They have a point, Brexit may have been marvellous”, if Brexit is achieved there will be no hiding from what a disaster they have brought upon us and the fool in the mirror will scream at them every day (that will take a whole lot of delusion to ignore).

  • You can’t compare sloppy paper work with deliberately breaking spending limits by colluding with other friendly organsiations.

    Vote Leave deliberately cheated. And Vote Leave themselves have accepted that there were serious breaches of electoral law. You are the last man left on the deck.

    And you’re banging on about “the establishment” again. The “establishment” is fractured and multiple. Regarding Brexit, there have competing goups of elite actors. And divisions amonsgt non-eltie actors ie the public.

    Even at the simplest level, Bojo, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Farage etc etc are all members of the “establishment”.

    You’ve got your mathematically based model of the economy. Do you not do complexity when it comes to society?

  • Richard Underhill 31st Mar '19 - 12:08pm

    John Major is uniquely experienced to advise on a dilemma such as this. Having been elected Tory Leader with the support of defeated Tory Leader Margaret Thatcher and having unexpectedly gained a small parliamentary majority in the 1992 general election, he resigned as party leader, WHILE REMAINING PM, and stood for re-election. He was challenged by John Redwood, super-dry, former SofS for Wales.
    John Major’s memoirs disclose that if he had won by a small majority he would have resigned. He won with an adequate majority, but his ability to lead a united party was reduced by eight Tory MPs from whom he withdrew the whip. A ninth joined them voluntarily “white coats flapping” (a ‘Gladstonian liberal’ who attended the Gladstone Club at the NLC and was allowed to speak to it once, about his views on drugs and crime).
    John Major covered a wide variety of options, too many to list, but opposing an early general election.
    Tom Watson said that he had seen Jeremy Corbyn, who had put the Labour Party on a general election footing (which can be exhausting if it does not happen).

  • Peter Martin 31st Mar '19 - 12:38pm

    @ chris moore,

    The fine of £18,000 imposed by the Electoral Commission on the Lib Dems was 90% of the maximum they could impose, so it doesn’t look like they took the view that the Lib Dems had just lost a couple of invoices.

    But I get what you’re saying. Any transgression of the rules by the side you support is just an honest mistake. Any transgression by opponents is cheating and collusion with a hostile power.

    It all smacks of sour grapes. I know it’s a difficult ask, but you’d be far better trying to make a positive case for EU membership.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 1:02pm

    @ Peter Martin. Peter, you say, “The fine of £18,000 imposed by the Electoral Commission on the Lib Dems was 90% of the maximum they could impose, so it doesn’t look like they took the view that the Lib Dems had just lost a couple of invoices.”

    But they DIDN’T take the view that the “Lib Dems had just lost a couple of invoices.”

    What they said is, “The party was found to have failed to deliver a complete and accurate spending return from last year’s campaign, including failing to provide acceptable invoices or receipts for 80 payments totalling more than £80,000.”

    This looks to me like disorganistaion and incompetence – sadly common failings of Lib Dem HQ – but it clearly wasn’t an attempt to get round spending limits. Vote Leave’s infraction was significantly more serious, as they themselves have accepted.

    You say, “But I get what you’re saying. Any transgression of the rules by the side you support is just an honest mistake. Any transgression by opponents is cheating and collusion with a hostile power.”

    Actually, if the infractions were reversed, I’d be highly critical of the Lib Dems. Membership of the Lib Dems gives many glorious opportunities to rail against the party, I assure you. To name just a few: Jeremy Thorpe, Chris Huhne , Cyril Smith and the recent appalling blaseness of David Steel re Cyril Smith.

    No party has a monopoly on virtue or crime. But on this issue, Vote Leave are bang out of order. It really shouldn’t be so painful to accept that.

    BTW What is this stuff about “colluding with a hostile power”?

    PPS I can’t set out a positive case for the EU every time I comment on here. This is a thread about Vote Leave’s fine. Why don’t you set out a positive case for Leaving?

  • Malcolm Todd 31st Mar '19 - 1:51pm

    I don’t personally doubt that the breaches of campaign spending laws by the leave campaigns were more egregious than any on the other side. But the claim that this somehow “annuls” the referendum result is frankly specious. Despite the cheating by leave campaigners, it is beyond dispute that the total amounts spent by Remain campaigns considerably exceeded the other side’s spending (see the Electoral Commission’s figures), and that’s without even counting the £9 million of taxpayers’ money spend on that pro-Remain government leaflet sent to every household three years ago.
    And the question of whether Leave’s extra spending (which was mostly a matter of it being illegally distributed between major and minor campaigns rather than being hidden spending per se) can be considered to have had a material effect on the result has been considered by the High Court and Court of Appeal and rejected (as I have pointed out ref = “https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dems-vs-brexit-wera-hobhouse-this-must-go-back-to-the-people-60361.html#comment-495169on another thread).

    Look: I’m for Remain; I’m (just, with some trepidation) in favour of revoking Article 50 now, with or without another referendum. I believe there are valid arguments for this position. But I detest the use of dishonest claims by my own side as well, and I think it is actively dangerous. These repeated references to “cheating” are designed to sow doubt about whether Leave “really” won the referendum. Well, they did – there has been not one single claim anywhere that the votes were not cast as announced and counted correctly; and the claims about electoral effect of these campaign finance breaches are totally partisan and thoroughly unsubstantiated. It won’t do.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 3:52pm

    @ Peter Martin,

    Peter, you say, “The fine of £18,000 imposed by the Electoral Commission on the Lib Dems was 90% of the maximum they could impose, so it doesn’t look like they took the view that the Lib Dems had just lost a couple of invoices.I don’t think infractions of the electoral law by Leave invalidate their victory.”

    But they DIDN’T take the view that the Lib Dems had “lost a couple of invoices”. Who said that? Peter Martin, no one else. Not me.

    What they did say was that the party, “failed to deliver a complete and accurate spending return from last year’s campaign, including failing to provide acceptable invoices or receipts for 80 payments totalling more than £80,000.”

    Or putting it another way, it was a disgraceful shambles. Not for the first time, Lib Dem HQ was badly disorganised. And they were rightly fined. However, there’s no suggestion they were trying to get round spending limits or break the rules. They were incompetent and slap-dash.

    On THIS occasion Leave’s infraction was significantly more serious.

    BTW You are also at liberty to lay out the positive case for leaving. But really, it would be a bit absurd, if we had to preface every conversation on here with our personal manifestoes.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 3:52pm

    @ Peter Martin,

    Peter, you say, “The fine of £18,000 imposed by the Electoral Commission on the Lib Dems was 90% of the maximum they could impose, so it doesn’t look like they took the view that the Lib Dems had just lost a couple of invoices.I don’t think infractions of the electoral law by Leave invalidate their victory.”

    But they DIDN’T take the view that the Lib Dems had “lost a couple of invoices”. Who said that? Peter Martin, no one else. Not me.

    What they did say was that the party, “failed to deliver a complete and accurate spending return from last year’s campaign, including failing to provide acceptable invoices or receipts for 80 payments totalling more than £80,000.”

    Or putting it another way, it was a disgraceful shambles. Not for the first time, Lib Dem HQ was badly disorganised. And they were rightly fined. However, there’s no suggestion they were trying to get round spending limits or break the rules. They were incompetent and slap-dash.

    On THIS occasion Leave’s infraction was significantly more serious.

    BTW You are also at liberty to lay out the positive case for leaving. But really, it would be a bit absurd, if we had to preface every conversation on here with our personal manifestoes.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 4:15pm

    @ Malcolm Todd,

    Of course, this rule breaking didn’t alter the result.

    And though I’m a Remainer, I’m not at all in favour of a second referendum. Politicians should deliver a Brexit that respects the result but minimizes the many negative impacts.

    But we don’t need to be mealy-mouthed about this misbehaviour either. It was deliberate cheating.

  • Mark Seaman 31st Mar '19 - 4:16pm

    Ok , just keep on deliberately ignoring the fact that the biggest attempt to fix the result was by the then Government that spent several million pounds on a leaflet arguing for ‘Remain’, but as Cameron etc set the rule that that leaflet did not count towards the spending limits, then that’s absolutely fine and dandy. The spending was indeed no way fair… But remain still lost, despite a huge advantage.

  • Peter Martin 31st Mar '19 - 4:36pm

    @ Chris moore,

    “I don’t think infractions of the electoral law by Leave invalidate their victory”.

    You’ve got that sentence in quotation marks but I don’t know where it’s come from.

    I’d say Malcolm is being very fair minded with his suggestion, if I understand him correctly, that fairness should be about both sides in the debate having similar access to financial resources. I don’t particularly hold it against the Lib Dems that their paperwork got into a mess. In the hothouse atmosphere of a campaign I know that everyone has other priorities. We don’t want endless disputes in the courts about all that afterwords.

    I know you don’t like me banging on about the establishment but the UK establishment is overwhelmingly remain. At one time the establishment was the old Tory and Liberal Parties. It’s now most of the Labour Party too. The UK Parliament is overwhelmingly remain because it represents the establishment.

    It might have been a bit different in 1975. Then the Out campaign was led by the Labour Party. But we don’t seem to have the articulate leavers in Parliament any longer. That’s largely down to Blair. It wouldn’t have been possible for people like Dennis Skinner or even Tony Benn to make it through the selection process when he was in charge. Blair wanted pro-establishment people like Chuka Umunna and Lucianna Berger, but who’ve never identified with the Labour Party in the first place.

  • Peter Chambers 31st Mar '19 - 5:50pm

    @Peter Martin
    > “Now, with the rise of social media, money is much less important.”

    So why did the 2015 Conservative campaign spend £1.2M on social media advertising (for example, quote from BBC website) ? Figures from 2016 are even more interesting.

    Social media is the new effective domain for advertising. It is so much more effective for targetted advertising than old mass media, where conventional wisdom had it that half of money spent was wasted. Social media platforms will even help you with feedback and targetting – for a fee. Oh, and they are offshore, so somewhat beyond our laws.

    Steve Bannon wanted artillery. It turned out it was already available.

  • Peter Martin 31st Mar '19 - 6:04pm

    @ Peter Chambers,

    Maybe the Tory party are still more wedded to the older model of paid advertising than were, for example, the Labour momentum group. Their campaign was highly effective in the ’17 election. Their on-line videos were largely shared from user to user.

    Even for that you still need some funding but it’s not necessary to outspend the opposition to come out ahead.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 7:57pm

    @ Peter Martin,

    The establishment is split.

    It’s true there’s a strongish correlation between education level and affluence and voting Remain. But it’s only a correlation. there are plenty of well-educated affluent Leavers.

    Surely, it’s precisely the fact that Leave has had many affluent and influential individuals behind it, that it was able to put together a very effective campaign and win teh referéndum Leave won the Referéndum.

    The Conservative party itself, pillar of the establishment, his increasingly anti-European.

    The “people” against the “establishment” cliché is a travesty of a much more nuanced reality.

  • chris moore 31st Mar '19 - 7:58pm

    Forgive the numerous tipos.

  • John Marriott 1st Apr '19 - 8:27am

    @Peter Moore
    Now I know it’s April 1; but this is no April Fool. You refer to the 1975 Referendum, which I remember well. The ‘out’ campaign, besides having such Labour worthies as Peter Shore and Tony Benn, also had the likes of Enoch Powell as well as senior members of the TUC. What the ‘in’ campaign had was Tories such as Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, supporting people like Roy Jenkins and Jeremy Thorpe. What it also had was overwhelming support in the country, which had become desperate for a lifeline to save it from its economic woes, brought about largely by the quadrupling of oil prices following the Yom Kippur war, which had put an end for Tory Chancellor Anthony Barber’s ‘Dash for Growth’ (aka ‘the Barber Boom’) in the early 1970s. Even staying in the EEC didn’t prevent our having to go cap in hand to the IMF to bail us out a year or so later.

    We owe a great deal to the old Common Market, our membership of which largely kept us going until North Sea Oil kicked in a decade later. Many of us wish that it had stayed just that. However, how many of us back then could have foreseen the collapse of Communism behind the Iron Curtain, which led to the EEC’s massive expansion into the EU or the emergence of China and India as economic powers, let alone the upsurge of militant Islam?

    That said, despite your arguments to the contrary, which, if you will pardon my saying so, are clearly getting nowhere on this platform, I would still rather be in the tent looking out, or at least, if the votes go that way in Parliament today, closely attached to it.

  • John Barrett 1st Apr '19 - 12:46pm

    Some people may remember that before the Scottish Independece Referendum, the SNP Governemnt spent £1.25m producing, advertising and delivering their vision of an independent Scotland. In reply our party spokesman said “The Scottish government has published a detailed, 670-page guide to an independent Scotland.
    “In the interests of a fair, balanced and fully-informed debate, it is essential that there is an equivalent amount of detail from those arguing for a No vote.

    Not surprisingly the Scottish Government did not respond to our request, they spent the money and lost that vote.

    In the EU Referendum the UK Government spent an estimated £3m on the remain campaign.

    In both cases the Government sponsored side of the Referendum campaigns lost.

    There are also many reports detailing the total spend of Remain being significantly greater than the total spend of Leave.

    It just goes to show that both sides in both referendum campaigns failed to be totally honest with the public and both losing sides used public money to bolster their cases.

  • John Littler 1st Apr '19 - 3:52pm

    Now the Independent Group are becoming a new centrist party as “Change UK” to fight the Euro Elections, the LibDems had better make up their minds quickly and form an electoral “Progressive Alliance” and with Greens and maybe Welsh Nationalists, or that ground is too crowded.

  • Main problem is that Leavers’ opinions are handed to them ready made by the Brexit press – Express, Telegraph, Sun etc, who also influence all the other media outlets, so there is a blanket brainwashing of the population.. This is not so much of a problem in other EU countries, otherwise the EU would have ceased to exist long ago.

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