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Vote Leave fined and referred to the police for breaking electoral law

Published: 17 Jul 2018

The Electoral Commission has today published the conclusions of its investigation into the campaign spending of Vote Leave and a number of other campaigners, and has found Vote Leave and Darren Grimes broke electoral law.

The Commission’s investigation found significant evidence of joint working between the lead campaigner, Vote Leave and another campaign group BeLeave.

Evidence shows that BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave. This spending should have been declared by Vote Leave. It means Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000.

Vote Leave also returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending.

Darren Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, was found to have committed two offences and has been fined £20,000. Mr Grimes spent more than £675,000 on behalf of BeLeave, a non-registered campaigner that had a spending limit of £10,000. Further, he wrongly reported that same spending as his own.

The Commission has now referred both Mr David Halsall the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Mr Grimes to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending.

It has also shared its investigation files with the Metropolitan Police in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences which lie outside the Commission’s regulatory remit.

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, said:

“The Electoral Commission has followed the evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning carried out by Vote Leave and BeLeave. We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums. Our findings relate primarily to the organisation which put itself forward as fit to be the designated campaigner for the ‘leave’ outcome.”

Commenting on the investigation itself, Bob Posner continued:

“Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence. Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”

The investigation also found that the campaign group Veterans for Britain inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave. It has been fined £250. There was no evidence that Veterans for Britain campaigned under a common plan with Vote Leave.

Background to the investigation

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) it was the responsibility of all campaigners to ensure that an accurate and complete campaign spending return was submitted to the Electoral Commission by the statutory deadline following the EU referendum.

In November 2017 the Commission opened an investigation after it found evidence to indicate that Vote Leave had made payments to Aggregate IQ in the ten days before the referendum, apparently on behalf of two separate campaigners: BeLeave and Veterans for Britain. This suggested a pattern of action by Vote Leave which in turn suggested the possibility that Vote Leave had worked with other campaign groups under a common plan.

The findings presented in our public report today mark the conclusion of our first and only investigation into joint spending by Vote Leave at the EU referendum.

Scope of the investigation

The investigation examined:

  • Whether joint working took place between Vote Leave, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain, and if this joint working caused Vote Leave to exceed its spending limit.
  • The accuracy and completeness of the spending returns provided by Vote Leave, Mr Grimes and Veterans for Britain.
  • Whether BeLeave exceeded its spending limit as an unregistered campaigner.
  • Whether the responsible person for Veterans for Britain failed to accurately report a donation.
  • Whether Vote Leave failed to comply with an investigation notice issued by the Commission.

Conclusions of the investigation

  • 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.

The Commission having concluded this matter, highlights again that it has been restricted by the maximum individual fine limit of £20,000. The Commission considers this inadequate for serious offences of electoral or referendum law. Looking forward, we have recommended that government and parliament in the UK should change the law to enable us to impose substantially higher fines in line with other comparable regulators.

Report on an investigation in respect of Vote Leave Limited, Mr Darren Grimes, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain.

Ends

For more information please contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk. Out of office hours: 07789 920414

Notes to editors:

  • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. It works to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
    • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
    • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
    • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
  • The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
  • The Electoral Commission has a range of enforcement powers under PPERA. For more information on the regulatory work of the Commission see the website here.
  • Any potential breaches of the rules which regulate non-political campaigners spending are considered in line with the Commission's enforcement policy which can be accessed here, details of sanctions issued can be found here.
  • An individual or organisation that is issued with a sanction by the Electoral Commission has 28 days to appeal that decision. Any such appeal is made to the County Court.
  • Unpaid fines will increase by 50% if not paid within 56 days of being imposed. After a further 28 days we may take action to obtain payment through the courts using the debt recovery process.
  • Any penalties that are imposed by the Commission go into the Consolidated Fund. This is managed by HM Treasury and not the Electoral Commission.

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