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Brexit: Elections watchdog misunderstood spending rules over Vote Leave donations, High Court rules

The elections watchdog “misinterpreted” spending guidelines surrounding donations by the official Brexit marketing campaign in the course of the EU referendum, the Excessive Courtroom has dominated.

Campaigners from the Good Regulation Venture (GLP) received a authorized problem towards the Electoral Commission over election spending by Vote Go away, arguing that the watchdog failed in its obligation to manage the referendum course of.

In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Leggatt mentioned the Fee had misunderstood the definition of referendum bills in relation to Vote Go away, a marketing campaign group fronted by main Brexiteers together with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The row centres on Vote Go away’s donation of £620,000 to Canadian internet advertising agency AggregateIQ (AIQ) on the request of one other Brexit campaigner, Darren Grimes, founding father of the youth group BeLeave.

This donation breached strict electoral spending guidelines, because it took Vote Go away over its £7 million spending restrict by virtually £500,000.

Campaigners launched the case in October final yr, after the Electoral Fee mentioned there have been “no cheap grounds to suspect” incorrect reporting of marketing campaign spending or donations by Vote Go away.

The watchdog later launched a probe into each Vote Go away and Mr Grimes, concluding that each had incorrectly reported their spending.

Vote Go away was fined £61,000 and Mr Grimes was handed a £20,000 positive by the fee – and each had been reported to the police.

The Excessive Courtroom agreed with the watchdog that Vote Go away had damaged the foundations, however discovered that it had additionally misinterpreted the foundations within the recommendation it gave to the marketing campaign.

Mr Justice Leggatt mentioned the fee had “misinterpreted the definition of ‘referendum bills'”, including: “The supply of its error is a mistaken assumption that a person or physique which makes a donation to a permitted participant can’t thereby incur referendum bills.

“On account of this error, the Electoral Fee has interpreted the definition in a manner that’s inconsistent with each the language and the aim of the laws.” 

Matthew Elliot, the previous chief govt of Vote Go away, mentioned the marketing campaign had been left in a “full Alice in Wonderland state of affairs”.

Writing on Brexit Central web site, he mentioned: “Vote Go away requested for, and acquired, the Electoral Fee’s recommendation. We adopted that recommendation.

“Throughout the Judicial Overview, the Electoral Fee tried to keep away from admitting that it had provided that recommendation to us, however we had been in a position to set up that they’d – and the judges clearly dominated within the preliminary listening to that we had acquired that recommendation.

“But we at the moment are advised that, by having adopted that recommendation, we broke the legislation.”

An Electoral Fee spokesperson mentioned: “The Fee welcomes the courtroom’s consideration of this side of electoral legislation.

“The courtroom arrived on the similar conclusion because the Fee did in its investigation – that Vote Leave ought to have accounted for the expenditure on the digital companies agency, Combination IQ – though it discovered a further motive for reaching that conclusion.

“The Fee imposed sanctions on Vote Go away for this offence and others discovered in the course of the investigation.”

The Impartial has launched its #FinalSay marketing campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the ultimate Brexit deal.

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