Investigation: Vote Leave Ltd, Mr Darren Grimes, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain

Overview

This investigation mainly concerned five payments made in June 2016 to a Canadian data analytics firm called Aggregate IQ.

The payments were for services provided to campaigners in the EU Referendum.

Three of the payments, totalling £675,315.18, were reported by Mr Grimes as donations from Vote Leave, and as spending by him on services from Aggregate IQ. Another payment of £50,000 from Mr Anthony Clake was reported by Mr Grimes as a donation from Mr Clake, and as spending by Mr Grimes on services from Aggregate IQ.

The final payment of £100,000 was reported by Veterans for Britain as a donation from Vote Leave and as spending on services from Aggregate IQ.

There were four persons under investigation: Mr Halsall in his capacity as the responsible person of Vote Leave, Vote Leave itself, Mr Grimes and Mr Banks. No other person was under investigation by us.

Update – 14 August 2019

Vote Leave Limited and Darren Grimes both appealed against the sanctions set out in the following report.  Veterans for Britain paid their fine of £250.  

Vote Leave subsequently paid their fines totalling £61,000 in March 2019 and withdrew their appeal.

Darren Grimes was successful in his appeal.  The judgement, given on 19 July 2019, withdrew the £20,000 sanction imposed by the Commission.  

The Central London County Court found that Darren Grimes had properly notified the Commission that BeLeave would be a campaigner in the EU referendum, meaning that BeLeave had not breached the spending limit for an unregistered campaigner.  The Court also found that Darren Grimes’ inclusion of BeLeave’s spending in what the Commission had regarded as his own return did not mean he had submitted an inaccurate spending return.  
 

Summary of findings

This investigation mainly concerned five payments made in June 2016 to a Canadian data analytics firm called Aggregate IQ. The payments were for services provided to campaigners in the EU Referendum.

Three of the payments, totalling £675,315.18, were reported by Mr Grimes as donations from Vote Leave, and as spending by him on services from Aggregate IQ.

Another payment of £50,000 from Mr Anthony Clake was reported by Mr Grimes as a donation from Mr Clake, and as spending by Mr Grimes on services from Aggregate IQ.

The final payment of £100,000 was reported by Veterans for Britain as a donation from Vote Leave and as spending on services from Aggregate IQ.

There were four persons under investigation: Mr Halsall in his capacity as the responsible person of Vote Leave, Vote Leave itself, Mr Grimes and Mr Banks. No other person was under investigation by us.

Joint spending by Vote Leave and BeLeave

Joint spending by Vote Leave and BeLeave

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that all Mr Grimes’ and BeLeave’s spending on referendum campaigning was incurred under a common plan with Vote Leave.

This spending, including the £675,315.18 for services from Aggregate IQ reported by Mr Grimes, should have been treated as incurred by Vote Leave.

To comply with PPERA, Vote Leave should have made a declaration of the amounts of joint spending in its referendum spending return.

As the declarations were not made, Mr Halsall failed, without reasonable excuse, 6 to deliver a complete campaign spending return, committing an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

Vote Leave's spending limit

Vote Leave's spending limit

As referendum spending by Mr Grimes and BeLeave was joint with Vote Leave, the ‘common plan’ provisions in the EURA meant the spending was treated as if incurred by Vote Leave.

Vote Leave’s referendum spending was therefore £7,449,079. Its statutory spending limit was £7m.

We are satisfied that Mr Halsall knew, or should reasonably have known, that this spending would exceed the spending limit.

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave exceeded the spending limit for a designated lead campaigner and Mr Halsall committed an offence under section 118(2)(c)(i). Vote Leave also committed an offence under section 118(2)(c)(ii).

Other issues with Vote Leave's spending return

Other issues with Vote Leave's spending return

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave’s spending return was not a complete statement of all its referendum payments.

It was inaccurate in respect of 43 items of spending, totalling £236,501.44.

Mr Halsall provided no reasonable excuse for these inaccuracies, which are an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

We also found that eight payments of over £200 in Vote Leave’s return did not have an invoice or receipt with them, as required by PPERA.

These payments came to £12,849.99. Mr Halsall did not have a reasonable excuse for these omissions, and committed a further offence under section 122(4)(b).

BeLeave's spending return

BeLeave's spending return

BeLeave was never registered with us as a campaigner in the EU Referendum.

Unregistered campaigners could only legally spend up to £10,000 on referendum campaigning. But Mr Grimes, acting on BeLeave’s behalf, incurred spending of over £675,000.

All this spending took place after BeLeave met the criteria for registering as a campaigner.

This spending was joint spending with Vote Leave. Under the common plan provisions in EURA, it had to be treated as campaign spending incurred by Vote Leave. But it was still spending by BeLeave, and counted against its spending limit, even though only Vote Leave were required to report it.

We are satisfied that Mr Grimes knew, or should reasonably have known, that BeLeave was not a permitted participant.

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Grimes incurred referendum spending in excess of £10,000 on behalf of a body that was not a permitted participant, and that he knew, or should reasonably have known, he was doing this.

Mr Grimes committed an offence under section 117(3) PPERA. BeLeave also committed an offence under section 117(4)

Mr Grimes' spending return

Mr Grimes' spending return

After the referendum, Mr Grimes delivered a spending return in his capacity as an individual campaigner.

Although he put the name ‘Darren Grimes/BeLeave’ on it, it wasn’t a return for two campaigners; it was a return for him as an individual campaigner.

He included payments of £675,315.18 of BeLeave’s spending. This was substantially inaccurate reporting that has resulted in a lack of transparency about whose spending this was.

We are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that Mr Grimes failed to deliver a referendum spending return to us that complied with PPERA. He thereby committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

Veterans for Britain

Veterans for Britain

Veterans for Britain’s spending return included a donation of £100,000, reported as a cash donation received and accepted on 20 May 2016.

In fact, this donation was a payment by Vote Leave to Aggregate IQ for services provided to Veterans for Britain in the final days of the EU Referendum campaign.

It was paid by Vote Leave on 29 June 2016.

We are satisfied that the responsible person for Veterans for Britain, Mr Banks, without reasonable excuse, delivered a spending return that contained an inaccurate donation report.

He committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

That donation was for services provided by Aggregate IQ, who were also providing services to Vote Leave at the same time.

The evidence we have seen does not support the concern that the services were provided to Veterans for Britain as joint working with Vote Leave.

Vote Leave investigation notice

Vote Leave investigation notice

Where we are conducting an investigation we can issue an ‘investigation notice’ requiring any person to give us information, explanation or documents to progress the investigation.

We can impose a reasonable deadline.

We issued an investigation notice to Vote Leave during this investigation. We set out a discrete list of documents directly related to the investigation. We gave a reasonable deadline.

Vote Leave did not respond to the notice until after the deadline had passed and that response did not comply with the notice in any way.

Vote Leave did not give any indication that it was unable to comply with the notice.

We are therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with an investigation notice issued under Schedule 19B paragraph 3 PPERA on 21 February 2018.

Vote Leave thereby committed an offence under Schedule 19B paragraph 13(1).

Offences and penalties

Mr David Halsall and Vote Leave

We have determined that Mr David Alan Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, committed an offence under section 8 122(4)(b). He delivered a referendum spending return for Vote Leave that failed, without reasonable excuse, to be a complete statement of payments worth £236,501.44.

He failed to declare common plan spending of £676,015.87.

We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this offence.

Mr Halsall committed a further offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA by failing, without reasonable excuse, to include required invoices and receipts for eight payments.

We have fined Vote Leave £1,000 for this offence.

Mr Halsall and Vote Leave both committed offences under section 118(2)(c) PPERA. Mr Halsall incurred spending of £449,079.34 which he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, was in excess of the statutory spending limit for Vote Leave.

We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this.

Vote Leave committed a further offence during this investigation, under Schedule 19B paragraph 13(1) PPERA. Vote Leave failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with an investigation notice issued by us under Schedule 19B paragraph 3.

We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this offence.

Mr Darren Grimes and BeLeave

We have determined that Mr Darren Grimes committed an offence under section 117(3) PPERA, and BeLeave committed an offence under section 117(4).

Mr Grimes incurred spending on behalf of BeLeave which he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, exceeded by £666,015.87 the statutory limit for a non-registered campaigner.

We have fined Mr Grimes £20,000 for this.

Mr Grimes also committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA in that he failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a referendum spending return as an individual registered campaigner that was a complete statement of all his referendum spending.

In light of its decision to impose a fine on Mr Grimes for his offence under section 117(3) PPERA, we decided not to impose a further fine on Mr Grimes for this offence.

Mr David Banks and Veterans for Britain

We have determined that Mr David Banks, the responsible person for Veterans for Britain, committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

He failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a referendum spending return that included an accurate report of relevant donations.

We have fined Mr Banks £250 for this offence.

The decision to investigate

This investigation mainly concerned five payments made to a Canadian data analytics firm called Aggregate IQ in June 2016. The payments were for campaign services for the EU Referendum.

Three of the payments, totalling £625,315.18, were made by Vote Leave to Aggregate IQ between 13 and 21 June 2016. They were reported by Mr Grimes as donations from Vote Leave.

Another payment, of £50,000, was made by Mr Anthony Clake to Aggregate IQ on 17 June 2016. Mr Grimes reported it as a donation from Mr Clake.

Mr Grimes reported total spending on services from Aggregate IQ of £675,315.18. This spending was funded by these payments.

The final payment was of £100,000 and made by Vote Leave to Aggregate IQ on 29 June 2016. Veterans for Britain reported it as a donation from Vote Leave, but with an incorrect date of 20 May 2016. They also reported spending it on services from Aggregate IQ.

Vote Leave, Mr Grimes and Veterans for Britain were all subject to regulatory action by us during 2017.

  • We carried out assessments into Vote Leave and Mr Grimes in February and March 2017. An assessment is a process of getting and examining evidence so we can decide whether to open an investigation. We only investigate if we have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence or contravention of PPERA has happened, and if it is in the public interest for us to act. In these assessments, we looked at whether to investigate allegations that Vote Leave had broken its spending limit for the EU Referendum, by channelling money to Aggregate IQ via BeLeave. Based on the evidence we saw at the time, we decided not to investigate.
  • During 2017 we conducted an investigation into Vote Leave because its referendum spending return appeared to be incomplete. We had reached initial conclusions, and then we opened this new investigation. We then combined all the issues into this one investigation.
  • We started investigating Veterans for Britain in August 2017. It reported a donation of £100,000 from Vote Leave in its spending return after the referendum. It said the donation was accepted on 20 May 2016. But it was not in the pre-poll donation report, delivered during the campaign, for the period covering 20 May 2016.

Throughout 2017 we received a number of requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that were about Vote Leave and Mr Grimes.

Claims also emerged in the media that Vote Leave and Mr Grimes had been working under a ‘common plan’. If true, these claims would mean that Vote Leave had failed to declare joint spending, and Mr Grimes had misreported the spending.

We asked the journalist concerned for sight of the evidence to substantiate the claims, in order to assist us in looking at the claims. This evidence was not provided to us.

Then, during September and October 2017, we found out that Veterans for Britain had told us the wrong details for its donation from Vote Leave. Rather than being given on 20 May 2016, that donation was given on 20 June 2016 and paid on 29 June 2016.

This coincided with the dates of the payments Mr Grimes reported as donations from Vote Leave.

Therefore, by late October 2017 we knew that Vote Leave had made payments to Aggregate IQ in the ten days before the referendum on 23 June 2016, apparently on behalf of two separate campaigners.

Given this new information suggested a pattern of action by Vote Leave, we decided to review our assessment decision not to investigate. Having done so, in November 2017 we opened an investigation.

What we investigated

What our investigation found

Joint spending by Vote Leave and BeLeave

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that all Mr Grimes’ and BeLeave’s spending on referendum campaigning was incurred under a common plan with Vote Leave.

This spending, including the £675,315.18 for services from Aggregate IQ reported by Mr Grimes, should have been treated as incurred by Vote Leave.

To comply with PPERA, Vote Leave should have made a declaration of the amounts of joint spending in its referendum spending return.

As the declarations were not made, the responsible person for Vote Leave Mr Halsall failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a complete campaign spending return, committing an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

‘BeLeave’ was initially a name used by Mr Grimes in his activities in support of the UK leaving the EU.

From early 2016, Vote Leave gave Mr Grimes infrastructure and resource support to carry out his BeLeave activity.

In May 2016, when Vote Leave was engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to get funding for Mr Grimes’s BeLeave activity, Vote Leave drafted a constitution for BeLeave. When the individuals who became the BeLeave Board agreed this constitution, they effectively created an unincorporated association that could have been registered as a referendum campaigner.

All of BeLeave’s funding came directly from Vote Leave, or was arranged by Vote Leave. Vote Leave had significant influence over how that money was spent by BeLeave, to the extent that Vote Leave made a commitment to a different BeLeave donor to about how his money would be used.

We are satisfied that spending by Mr Grimes (which only came to £21.51) on campaign activity prior to BeLeave being established was under the significant influence of Vote Leave.

We are also satisfied that BeLeave’s creation, strategy, funding and activities throughout the time it existed as an unincorporated association in May and June 2016 were all under the significant influence of Vote Leave.

Evidence

Vote Leave's spending limit

Vote Leave's spending limit

As referendum spending by Mr Grimes and BeLeave was joint spending with Vote Leave, Vote Leave’s referendum spending was in fact £7,449,079. Its statutory spending limit was £7m.

We are therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave exceeded the spending limit for a designated lead campaigner of £7m.

Mr Halsall knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that this spending would be in excess of the spending limit.

He was the responsible person for a designated lead campaigner. His experience and expertise were highlighted by Vote Leave in its application for designation. He was responsible for Vote Leave’s financial and compliance processes. He was aware of the donations in question and either personally authorised them or delegated others to do so.

Mr Halsall was aware of BeLeave. He was aware of the common plan or joint spending provisions in law. He had a legal duty to adhere to the campaign finance rules, including the spending limit.

The Commission is therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Halsall committed an offence under section 118(2)(c)(i).

Vote Leave also committed an offence under section 118(2)(c)(ii).

Evidence

Other issues with Vote Leave's spending return

Other issues with Vote Leave's spending return

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave’s spending return included amounts totalling £234,275.40 that were not referendum spending.

Another four payments, of £1,828, were included when they should not have been. They were for an event that took place after 23 June 2016.

Another 10 payments were incorrectly aggregated as one. Mr Halsall provided no reasonable excuses for these. They meant that Vote Leave’s return was inaccurate in respect of another 43 items of spending, totalling £236,501.44, which was an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

We also found that eight payments of over £200 in Vote Leave’s return did not have an invoice or receipt with them, as required by PPERA. The total value of these payments was £12,849.99. Mr Halsall did not have a reasonable excuse for this omissions, and committed a further offence under section 122(4)(b).

Evidence and analysis

BeLeave's spending

BeLeave's spending

BeLeave was never registered with us as a campaigner in the EU Referendum.

Unregistered campaigners could only legally spend up to £10,000 on referendum campaigning. But Mr Grimes, acting on its behalf, incurred spending of over £675,000.

On 15 March 2016 Mr Grimes applied to register a permitted participant for the EU Referendum. He put down the name of the campaigner as ‘BeLeave’, but ticked the box to say he was applying as an individual. We treated the application as for an individual and approved it. At the time BeLeave was not eligible to register as a permitted participant.

If we had treated Mr Grimes’ application as an attempt to register BeLeave, it would have been rejected. It only met the eligibility criteria in May 2016.

Mr Grimes knew that BeLeave was not a permitted participant. He knew that he was. He also knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that while he could incur referendum spending of up to £700,000, BeLeave, as an unregistered campaigner, was limited to spending of £10,000.

Despite this BeLeave – with Mr Grimes acting on its behalf – incurred spending of £675,315.18.

This spending was joint spending with Vote Leave. Under the common plan provisions in EURA, it had to be treated as campaign spending incurred by Vote Leave. But it was still spending by BeLeave, and counted against its spending limit, even though only Vote Leave were required to report it.

We are therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Grimes incurred referendum spending in excess of £10,000 on behalf of a body that was not a permitted participant, and that he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, he was doing this.

Mr Grimes committed an offence under section 117(3) PPERA. BeLeave committed an offence under section 117(4) PPERA.

Evidence

Mr Grime's spending return

Mr Grime's spending return

After the referendum Mr Grimes delivered a spending return in his capacity as an individual campaigner.

Although he put the name ‘Darren Grimes/BeLeave’ on it, it wasn’t a return for two campaigners; it was a return for him as an individually registered campaigner. He included payments of £675,315 that was not his spending, but BeLeave’s.

This was a substantial amount of inaccurate reporting that has resulted in a lack of transparency.

We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Grimes failed to deliver a complete referendum spending return to us.

He thereby committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

Evidence

Veterans for Britain

Veterans for Britain

Veterans for Britain’s spending return included a donation of £100,000, reported as a cash donation received and accepted on 20 May 2016.

In fact, this donation was a payment by Vote Leave directly to Aggregate IQ for services provided to Veterans for Britain in the final days of the EU referendum campaign.

It was paid by Vote Leave on 29 June 2016.

We are satisfied that the responsible person for Veterans for Britain, Mr Banks, without reasonable excuse delivered a spending return that contained an inaccurate donation report.

He committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA.

That donation was for services provided by Aggregate IQ. Aggregate IQ was providing services to Vote Leave at the same time.

The evidence we have seen does not support the concern that the services were provided to Veterans for Britain as joint working with Vote Leave.

Evidence

Vote Leave investigation notice

Vote Leave investigation notice

Under Schedule 19B PPERA, when we are conducting an investigation we can issue an ‘investigation notice’ requiring any person to disclose information, explanation or documents to us. We can give a reasonable deadline for disclosure.

We issued an investigation notice to Vote Leave. Vote Leave failed to comply with the notice by the deadline we gave. It did not reply until after the deadline has passed, and while initially offering the documents for inspection, it then imposed conditions on this happening.

None of the arguments Vote Leave put forward as to why it did not comply amount to a reasonable excuse. It had told us that the relevant documents were being preserved. It did not indicate any logistical challenge with producing them by the deadline. There is no evidence to suggest that it was unable to produce them.

Vote Leave’s failure to comply appears to have resulted from misconceived objections, already dealt with by us, to being under investigation.

We are therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with an investigation notice we 30 issued under Schedule 19B paragraph 3 PPERA on 21 February 2018. Vote Leave thereby committed an offence under Schedule 19B paragraph 13(1).

Evidence

Potential related offences

Potential related offences

Under section 123(2)(a) and (b)(i) of PPERA, referendum spending returns must be accompanied by a declaration to us made by the responsible person of the campaigner.

The responsible person is required to state that they have examined the return and, to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, it is complete and correct as required by law.

It is an offence for the responsible person to knowingly or recklessly make a false declaration. Civil sanctions do not attach to this offence; it can only be pursued by prosecution.

We are satisfied that we have reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Halsall either knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Vote Leave spending return.

We are also satisfied that we have reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Grimes either knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the spending return he delivered as an individually registered campaigner.

Vote Leave’s spending return was inaccurate. It was incorrect for it to fail to include a declaration that Vote Leave had engaged in joint working with Mr Grimes and BeLeave. It incorrectly stated that Vote Leave had spent under its spending limit.

Mr Grimes’ spending return was also inaccurate. It incorrectly stated that he had incurred over £675,000 of referendum campaign spending when this was not in fact the case.

We have shared our evidence in respect of Mr Halsall and Mr Grimes with the Metropolitan Police Service.

We have also shared our investigation files with the Metropolitan Police in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences which lie outside our remit.

Offences committed

We have determined that Mr David Alan Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, committed:

  • an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA in that Mr Halsall failed, without reasonable excuse to deliver a referendum spending return for Vote Leave that was a complete statement of all payments made. We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this offence.
  • a further offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA in that Mr Halsall failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a referendum spending return for Vote Leave that was accompanied by all the required invoices and receipts. We have fined Vote Leave £1,000 for this offence.
  • an offence under section 118(2)(c)(i) PPERA in that Mr Halsall incurred spending which he knew or ought reasonably to have known was in excess of the statutory spending limit for Vote Leave. Vote Leave also committed an offence under section 118(2)(c)(ii). We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this.

We have determined that Vote Leave Limited committed an offence under Schedule 19B paragraph 13(1) PPERA in that it failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with a requirement imposed by us to produce documents by a specified date. We have fined Vote Leave £20,000 for this offence.

We have determined that Mr Darren Grimes committed:

  • an offence under section 117(3) PPERA in that Mr Grimes incurred spending on behalf of BeLeave that exceeded the statutory limit for a nonregistered campaigner. BeLeave also committed an offence under section 117(4). We have fined Mr Grimes £20,000 for this.
  • an offence under section 122(4)(b) in that Mr Grimes failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a referendum spending return as an individual registered campaigner that was a complete statement of all his referendum spending. In light of our decision to impose a fine on Mr Grimes for his offence under section 117(3) PPERA, we decided not to impose a further fine on Mr Grimes for this offence.

We have determined that Mr David Banks, the responsible person for Veterans for Britain, has committed an offence under section 122(4)(b) PPERA. He failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver a referendum spending return that included an accurate report of relevant donations received. We have fined Mr Banks £250 for this offence.

Legal and regulatory framework

Last updated: 14 August 2019
Next review: 7 July 2020