Electoral Commission ‘got it wrong’ over Leave campaign
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.