Leave.EU is not a political party but it was a registered campaigner, though not the designated lead, in the Referendum campaign. The designated lead was Vote Leave.
The Commission found that:
- Leave.EU failed to include a minimum of £77,380 in its spending return, thereby exceeding its spending limit by more than 10%. The Commission is satisfied that the actual figure was in fact greater, given the failure to report an appropriate proportion of the cost of services provided by Goddard Gunster.
- Leave.EU did not correctly report the receipt of three regulated transactions from Mr Arron Banks, totalling £6million. The dates the transactions were entered into, the repayment date, the interest rate and the provider of the transactions were all incorrectly reported.
- Leave.EU paid for services from the US campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster that should have been reported in its spending return but were not.
- Leave.EU failed to include in its referendum spending return, spending of £77,380 in fees paid to the company Better for the Country Limited as its campaign organiser.
- Leave.EU failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for 97 payments of over £200, cumulatively totalling £80,224.
Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, said:
“The rules we enforce were put in place by Parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes. It is therefore disappointing that Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules. Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly. These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission’s fines.”
Given the controversial nature of Brexit, it is hardly surprising that some are claiming that the overspend has in some way negatived the outcome of the referendum - e.g. Jon Danzig here. However, the Electoral Commission report does not comment on this.
Danzig points to ‘The Code of Good Practice on Referendums’ issued by the Venice Commission in which it is stated (para 3.3) that if the cap on spending is exceeded in a referendum by a significant amount, “the vote must be annulled.” The Code, which is a non-binding guideline, was adopted by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in 2006/2007.
Parliament could - if it were minded to do so - conduct its own analysis of the significance of these breaches and Parliament could determine the response to any findings. However, at the time of writing, there seems to be little political appetite to do so.
Statement by Electoral Commission 11th May 2018
Report on an investigation in respect of the Leave.EU Group Limited