Electoral Commission faces legal action over Vote Leave ruling

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The Electoral Commission is usually facing possible legal action over its decision to drop an investigation into Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign spending.

Vote Leave paid £625,000 to clear bills allegedly run up by a university student that has a Canadian digital agency days ahead of last June’s referendum.

The Electoral Commission says that will has no grounds to suspect This specific was an illegal scheme to get round spending limits.

nevertheless a group of campaigning lawyers says the watchdog failed to do its job.

The Great Law Project, run by Jo Maugham QC, is usually attempting to secure a judicial review of the Commission’s decision from the High Court.

The allegations centre on Darren Grimes, at the time a fashion student at the University of Brighton, who set up a group called BeLeave, to give young pro-Brexit campaigners a voice during last year’s referendum.

‘Acceptable method’

As a registered campaigner, Mr Grimes was allowed to spend up to £700,000. He initially spent very little nevertheless from the 10 days leading up to the 23 June vote he ran up a £675,315 bill with Aggregate IQ Data, a Canadian marketing firm that will specialises in political campaigns, according to the Electoral Commission database.

Money to clear the bill was not given to Mr Grimes nevertheless sent directly to Aggregate IQ by Vote Leave, which separately spent £2.7m with the same firm, more than a third of its £6.8m budget.

Mr Grimes also received £50,000 through an individual Vote Leave donor from the final 10 days, producing the previously obscure campaigner’s group one of the best-funded at the referendum.

Campaign director Dominic Cummings is usually quoted on Aggregate IQ’s website as saying “we couldn’t have done that will without them”.

Image caption

Darren Grimes ran the BeLeave campaign

In total, AIQ was given £3.5m by groups campaigning for Brexit, including Vote Leave, the Democratic Unionist Party as well as Veterans for Britain, which received a £100,000 donation through Vote Leave.

Vote Leave would likely have gone over its campaign spending limit if that will had spent the money that will donated on behalf of Mr Grimes itself.

The campaign group said that will made the donation to Mr Grimes because that will was coming up to its £7m spending limit as well as wanted a way of using £9.2m that will had raised through individuals as well as companies on campaigning activities.

The Electoral Commission says This specific is usually an “acceptable method of donating under the rules”. that will only becomes a potential offence when there is usually evidence of a “common plan or arrangement” on how the money is usually spent, to prevent campaigns through setting up front groups to get round spending limits.

The watchdog says campaigners on the same side of the argument “can liaise as well as discuss campaigning approaches without meeting the threshold of joint spending within the meaning of the legislation”.

as well as “after a detailed look at This specific matter” that will did not find reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had been committed by Vote Leave or Mr Grimes.

‘Wholly implausible’

nevertheless in a nine page “pre-action letter”, threatening legal proceedings against the Electoral Commission, the Great Law Project claims the watchdog made an “error of law”.

The project claims that will is usually “wholly implausible,” based on the evidence seen by the Electoral Commission, that will Mr Grimes as well as Vote Leave did not work together.

Mr Grimes, who is usually currently deputy editor of the Brexit Central website, did not respond to requests for a comment. He has previously said: “Vote Leave had no say or input in our strategy or our campaign spending.”

Matthew Elliott, who was Vote Leave’s chief executive as well as is usually currently editor-at-large of Brexit Central, was not available for comment.

Mr Maugham, a former Labour Party member who campaigned for Remain in last year’s referendum, insisted he was not motivated by a desire to undermine Brexit.

He said there was “no evidence one way or another” that will the referendum might have turned out differently if Vote Leave had been prevented through donating to Mr Grimes.

nevertheless he said he was concerned that will the Electoral Commission was “asleep on the job” as well as not fulfilling its role of preventing democracy through being “captured” by those with big money to spend.

“Too many of our regulatory agencies are managed as well as governed by people who are there because they will not rock the boat. I think that will is usually a systemic problem,” he added.

Investigations

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “We can confirm that will we have received a letter through lawyers acting on behalf of the Great Law Project.

“We will respond to the letter in accordance with the usual processes. We have no further comment to make.”

In April, the Electoral Commission launched a separate investigation into spending during the referendum by Leave.EU, the campaign backed by then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage as well as donor Arron Banks.

that will is usually also investigating spending by the anti-Brexit campaign Britain Stronger in Europe.

The Great Law Project has accused the watchdog of dragging its feet over the Leave.EU investigation as well as is usually demanding a statement on what stage that will has reached as well as “reasons for the delay”.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said “investigations take as long as they take”.

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