Lead Brexit campaign group faces police inquiry over its spending

FILE PHOTO: Head of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott, poses for a photograph at the Vote Leave campaign headquarters in London, Britain May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo


LONDON: Britain’s officially designated Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, was fined 61,000 pounds ($81,000) on Tuesday for breaching spending rules in the 2016 referendum and was referred to the police by the Electoral Commission.

The move by the commission, which said serious breaches of the law had been committed by Vote Leave, added to calls from opponents of Brexit for a re-run of the referendum on European Union membership, though Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out another vote.

Two years since voting by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the bloc, the United Kingdom, its political and business leaders remain deeply divided over the country’s plans for departing from the EU on March 29, 2019.

The commission said Vote Leave, which was fronted by leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary last week, and Michael Gove, now environment minister, used an allied group to pay Aggregate IQ, a company which used social media data to target voters, and thus exceeded spending.

“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,” said Bob Posner, the commission’s director of political finance and regulation.

Brexit campaigners say they are fighting an attempt by the British establishment to thwart the process of leaving the EU and have repeatedly dismissed as nonsense claims by opponents that they cheated, lied and even colluded with Russia to win.

Vote Leave said the Electoral Commision had made false accusations, failed to interview anybody from the group and were politically-motivated.

“Having skimmed the (commission’s) report, they’ve ignored (Vote Leave’s) detailed evidence, so it’s riddled with errors & conclusions completely wrong,” Matthew Elliott, who was head of the group, said on Twitter.

“We accepted their invitation for an interview in early March. Senior staff also volunteered to be interviewed. They haven’t followed due process.”