World News

Pro-Brexit group Vote Leave fined by UK electoral commission

Posted July 17, 2018 2:40 a.m. EDT

— The official pro-Brexit campaign group was has been fined and referred to the police after the UK's elections watchdog found it had broken Britain's strict electoral laws.

The Electoral Commission fined Vote Leave £61,000 ($81,000) for coordinating with another campaign group and exceeding spending limits during the 2016 referendum campaign.

In a damning ruling, the commission said it had imposed a punitive fine on Vote Leave, accusing it of frustrating the watchdog's investigation.

"The commission is ... satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave exceeded the spending limit" and committed an offense under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the report said.

Vote Leave, the official campaign for the UK to leave the EU, exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million ($9.3 million) by around £500,000 ($660,000), the Electoral Commission said in a long-awaited report.

It ruled Vote Leave had broken rules by coordinating with another group, BeLeave. Darren Grimes, the founder of BeLeave, was fined £20,000 ($26,000). Grimes and Vote Leave official David Halsall have been referred to the police.

In an accompanying blog post, the commission explained that in the 10-week period leading up to the referendum on June 23, 2016, "the two designated lead campaigners (one for the Leave camp and one for Remain) could spend up to £7 million each, while other groups had a limit of £700,000 each."

"Campaign groups can work together to achieve a particular outcome, but their spending -- when combined -- must not exceed their individual spending limit," it added. "Where a lead campaigner is working together with other campaign groups, all the spending will count towards the lead campaigner's total and needs to fall within the £7 million limit."

Grimes and BeLeave made payments of around £675,000 ($894,000) to a Canadian data analytics firm Aggregate IQ, which "should have been treated as incurred by Vote Leave," the commission said.