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Vote Leave Accused of Illegal Spending in EU Referendum

Vote Leave Accused of Illegal Spending in EU Referendum

The legal team for two Vote Leave whistleblowers has submitted a dossier of evidence to the Electoral Commission, seeking to prove that the official Brexit campaign acted illegally in its EU referendum campaign in regard to obscuring the true extent of its spending.

Chris Wylie of Cambridge Analytica and activist Shahmir Sanni both worked with Vote Leave on their 2016 campaign. However, they are now coming forward to allege that spending limits were breached through a collusion between the official pro-Brexit campaign and younger pro-Brexit Group BeLeave, with Leave campaigner Sanni maintaining “This is not about Brexit . . . this is quite literally about democracy.”

Donation to BeLeave alleged to be part of a common spending plan

Vote Leave was legally restricted to spend a maximum of £7m on its campaign.

In line with s.123 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the group filed an official declaration of expenses, specifically labelling all expenses as allotted between the permissible categories. This has been approved by the Electoral Commission.

The allegations now arising surround a £1m donation made to Vote Leave, which would have contravened the £7m limit. £675,000 of this funding was re-donated by Vote Leave to BeLeave’s separate campaign.

However, whistle-blower Sanni alleges that despite legal statements from BeLeave and Vote Leave to the contrary, this money was a common expense aimed at a specific agreed plan, rather than a genuinely free donation to a similarly-minded organisation.

The accusations of collusion centre around a common source of the two campaign groups’ money.

BeLeave’s legal declaration of expenses attributed the £675,000 to AggregateIQ (AIQ), a Canadian data and advertising company owned by the same parent group as scandal-hit data services group Cambridge Analytica.

Vote Leave also declared a £2.7m expenditure with the firm, accounting for 40% of its total overall budget.

In total, £3.5m was spent by four pro-Brexit groups to secure the company’s data analyzing and advertising services, with Veterans for Britain and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland also using AIQ for their campaigns.

However, Vote Leave maintains that there was no agreed plan with BeLeave to use the donated money in this way, and that rather than being donated to contravene legal spending limits, the money was a bona fide donation, without any instruction.

Company that received £3.5m from Leave campaigns suspended by Facebook

In the wake of the calls of illegality, the Canadian company has removed from its website a comment from chief Vote Leave strategist Dominic Cummings, praising AIQ and saying that Vote Leave “couldn’t have done it without them.”

Facebook has also suspended AIQ from its site, saying in a statement that it took the decision ” In light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received FB user data.”

Chris Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who is also now submitting evidence against Vote Leave to the Electoral Commission, claims that he helped set up AIQ as a subsidiary of CA in his hometown of Victoria, Canada.

Meanwhile, Shamir Sanni has claimed that Vote Leave was involved in drafting a constitution for BeLeave to give it the appearance of an independent campaign.

Other documents given to the Observer newspaper suggest that when the Electoral Commission first started to investigate allegations about collusion between Vote Leave and BeLeave in 2017, and the names of certain Vote Leave officials were deleted from a Google drive on which BeLeave shared content with Vote Leave and AIQ.

The Electoral Commission will now decide whether the evidence submitted constitutes evidence of a breach of the campaigning budget laws by Vote Leave.

Vote Leave assert that they have already twice been cleared on this matter by the Commission, maintaining that their conduct has been entirely in line with campaign regulations.

Meanwhile, Brexit campaigner and MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has led accusations against the Commission itself, which has investigated the Leave campaign twice but never the Remain campaign, accusing it of impartiality after four of the ten commissioners were alleged to have publicly spoken out against the result of the referendum.

Rees-Mogg called the allegations “very serious”, asserting: “the regulator of elections must be impartial.”

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