Elec­toral Com­mis­sion ‘got it wrong’ over Leave cam­paign

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Harry Yorke PO­LIT­I­CAL CORRESPONDENT

VOTE Leave was given the wrong ad­vice by the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion on cam­paign spend­ing dur­ing the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, the High Court has ruled.

Judges said it had mis­in­ter­preted the def­i­ni­tion of ref­er­en­dum ex­penses, a “recipe for abuse of the spend­ing re­stric­tions”, and mis­tak­enly as­sumed do­na­tions from an in­di­vid­ual or body to an­other group would not need to be recorded in their own ex­penses.

The rul­ing is likely to prove highly dam­ag­ing for the com­mis­sion, which this year fined Vote Leave £61,000 and Dar­ren Grimes, the pro-brexit stu­dent ac­tivist, £20,000 for break­ing cam­paign spend­ing rules. It ini­tially said there were no grounds to sus­pect that a £620,000 do­na­tion from the cam­paign to Mr Grimes was a scheme to get round spend­ing lim­its, but changed its mind af­ter a third in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Vote Leave and Mr Grimes have con­firmed that they will chal­lenge the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to fine them.

Mr Jus­tice Leg­gatt said the do­na­tions should have been recorded as ex­penses, which would have taken Vote Leave over the £7 mil­lion spend­ing limit. Matthew El­liott, Vote Leave the chief ex­ec­u­tive, said un­less the watch­dog ap­pealed, it would be ad­mit­ting that it had pro­vided “in­cor­rect ad­vice” and should “im­me­di­ately re­con­sider the un­fair fines they are seek­ing to im­pose”.

He ar­gued Vote Leave would not have made the do­na­tions had it not been for the com­mis­sion’s “clear ad­vice” He said: “This is a mess of the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’s own mak­ing.”

There will be a fur­ther hear­ing to de­ter­mine what or­ders the court should make as a re­sult of its rul­ing.

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