Leave.EU have been fined £70, 000 by the Electoral Commission and their chief Liz Bilney has been referred to the police. The Metropolitan police and the Electoral Commission found it had breached multiple counts of electoral law during the referendum to leave the European Union. The investigation found that the group co-founded by Arron Banks unlawfully exceeded statutory spending limits by at least 10% and delivered incomplete and inaccurate spending and transaction returns.

A close associate of Banks and the campaign chief, Liz Bilney, will face a police investigation after the commission have said that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that she knowingly or recklessly signed the fake spending return declaration.

Investigation into Leave.EU

The commission said the actual figure "may well have been considerably higher", adding that the group had presented "incomplete and inaccurate" information about spending. Its spending return also did not include services Leave.EU had received from a US campaign strategy firm, Goddard Gunster, and the group "inaccurately reported" three loans totalling £6m from Mr Banks. The first thing Arron Banks did was to claim that this was a politically motivated attack on Brexit and that the commission is full of remainers. This tactic of immediately attacking the authorities or establishment has been used multiple times in the past by dictators or those who desire power in some form.

But the fine itself is pitiful and shows that the Electoral Commission have no real teeth or power to be able to make others in the future think twice.

Interestingly, the commission had found no evidence that Leave.EU received donations or services from Cambridge Analytica for the EU referendum and they found that the working relationship between the two did not extend beyond the initial scoping work.

They concluded that despite attempts from Cambridge Analytica’s attempts to obtain work from Arron Banks, the founder never made good on his promises. Cambridge Analytica shut down after the revelations with Facebook and it was former employee turned whistle-blower Christopher Wylie.

Leave.EU’s spending was curtailed during the lead up of the referendum because they weren’t the official pro-Brexit campaign, which meant they could only spend up to £700,000 during this period rather than £7 million.

The group Vote Leave, who were designated the official pro-Brexit campaign during the referendum, face their own investigation into whether they broke campaign finance rules by funnelling of funds into other pro-Brexit groups, which could link back to Leave.EU as there were significant links found between AggregateIQ, who played a vital role with Vote Leave’s campaign, and Cambridge Analytica.

Electoral ‘toothless’ Commission

The Good Law Project has initiated proceedings in the High Court to establish whether the Electoral Commission failed in its duty to uphold UK election law during the EU Referendum. The Good Law Project is asking the Court to find that the Electoral Commission was wrong to clear overspending by the official Vote Leave campaign.

The case concerns a donation of £625,000 apparently made by Vote Leave to one of its “outreach groups” in the days before the Referendum vote. If that donation was included in Vote Leave’s spending return, Vote Leave would have overspent by almost 10% and would have committed a criminal offence.

As previously stated the £70,000 fine is a toothless attempt at trying to curtail these breaches in the future, much like the Conservative Party almost exactly a year ago. On May 10th 2017, it was announced that no charges were to be brought to the 30 MPs who were being investigated for electoral fraud in the 2015 election, despite suggestions that the evidence was pretty substantial. The Electoral Commission are proving to be completely inept at holding political parties and campaign groups to account over these issues time and time again.

The measures should be strict because it is up to the commission to help maintain the democratic integrity of the UK. There are significant flaws but the ability to vote on a matter with all the information to hand without any underhanded tactics from the political establishment or from those who wish to claim to not part of the ‘establishment’. It is absolutely vital for a functioning democracy that the body which maintains the integrity has the ability to harshly sanction a party or campaign group without any fear of repercussions but it is abundantly clear that both the Conservatives and Leave.EU used their vast amounts of wealth and power to force a lenient or no sentence at all.