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Brex Factor: Fined pundit Grimes is fine by Sky News

Darren Grimes on Sky News in December 2018. Picture: Sky News - Credit: Archant

Steve Anglesey looks at Sky’s obsession with an electoral law-breaker and the Brexiteers of the week are revealed.

Mark Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, wants a second vote on Theresa May’s leadership. Picture: Ian Lawrence/Getty Images – Credit: Getty Images

Young, northern and passionate, Darren Grimes seems exactly the sort of person who Sky News should call on to defend Brexit. There’s just one small problem with his appearances on the channel as a ‘political commentator’.

No one would have any issue with the 25-year-old being given a platform were it not for him being fined £20,000 and reported to police for breaking electoral law during the referendum campaign. ‘Like asking Judas on to review The Last Supper,’ joked comedian Mike Harding on Twitter.

The facts of Grimes’ misdemeanours are well known. Despite his BeLeave group having a spending limit of £10,000, he received more £675,000 from the official Vote Leave campaign and used it on targeted Facebook advertising with data firm AggregateIQ.

This broke electoral law against separate campaigns having a common plan, and allowed Vote Leave to exceed their spending limit by nearly half a million pounds. Last month VL withdrew an appeal against their £61,000 fine. Grimes has protested his innocence from the start, raised nearly £80,000 in a crowdfunder and has said he will continue to fight his own appeal ‘until my last f**king penny’. This is apparently good enough for Sky News.

In December 2018, days after far-right protestors screamed ‘traitor’ at Anna Soubry outside parliament, Grimes popped up opposite Kay Burley at the channel’s outside broadcast centre on College Green. Jabbing his finger, he warned that in the event of a second referendum ‘people will quite rightly… turn around and punch our parliamentarians on the nose. We will unleash forces we have not seen in the country since the 1930s’.

Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative MP Nadine Dorries exhibited her popular culture knowledge this week. Picture: PA – Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

This was incendiary stuff at a febrile time but despite it, rather than be given a period away from the cameras for quiet self-reflection, Grimes has been invited back again and again.

In January he returned to call Polly Toynbee ‘disgusting’ for pointing out that statistically, the votes of pro-Remainers who have joined the electoral register since June 24, 2016 would now outweigh the votes of Leavers who have died since the referendum. ‘My grandad died last year and he’s the sort of person who voted to leave that Polly Toynbee vilifies in the media and says he shouldn’t have actually had a say in that referendum because he was too old,’ he said, misrepresenting the Guardian writer’s position.

Grimes, castigated by the Electoral Commission for an ‘inaccurate and incomplete’ spending return, went on to add that we should ‘cherish the democracy that we have’ (this staggering lack of self-awareness also probably helped convince him that it was a good idea to start a parliament-bashing comment piece for the Express with the words ‘sneakily, away from the public eye, they have stretched every rule to breaking point’).

Since then Grimes has popped up in the studio as a newspaper reviewer (‘I’m doing the paper review for Sky and well, let me be absolutely clear lads, I haven’t a sodding clue what’s going on,’ he tweeted a day earlier) and most recently at home in County Durham to discuss the ‘Brexit crisis’. ‘Where do people go when the ballot box is broken?’ he mused. Many would argue that he helped break it.

However Remainers might feel, Darren Grimes has been convicted of no criminal offence. While his TV appearances might cause a stir on social media, Ofcom has decided not to pursue one complaint concerning them because it ‘did not raise issues warranting investigation’; another is pending but likely to receive a similar response. And of course, though they declined to comment on Darren Grimes, it is Sky News’ choice who they use. Insiders say there is a belief that the channel does a good job of representing a wide range of views on Brexit and a feeling that since they receive a roughly equal number of complaints from Leavers and Remainers, they are probably getting something right.

Former MEP Roger Helmer says he will never vote again if a People’s Vote happens. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images – Credit: Getty Images

That is one point of view; another would be that Sky News’ use of Darren Grimes as a pundit disrespects the Electoral Commission, devalues the exemplary work of brilliant journalists like Beth Rigby and Adam Boulton, who admirably tackled channel regular Chloe Westley on the Tax Payers’ Alliance funding this week, and continues to maintain the mainstream media’s baffling lack of interest in Leave’s dodgy dealings.

A case, perhaps, of too much Grimes and not much punishment.

Brexiteers of the Week

4. Marc Francois

The Scrappy-Doo of Brexit wants a second vote on Theresa May’s leadership, telling the BBC: ‘Now that the situation has clearly changed… I’m arguing that colleagues should be given the chance to test their confidence in the prime minister.’

A far cry from his views on whether everybody else should get a second vote on Brexit itself. In February he told TalkRadio another poll ‘would not be appropriate’, and only a month ago he was on CNN declaring: ‘I don’t believe there should be a second referendum because we’ve already had one. What would be the point? We took a decision and it was a very clear decision.’

The Rayleigh and Wickford MP also drew sniggers by reading aloud a Tennyson poem at a press conference. Moviegoers pointed out that he had nicked the idea from Judi Dench as M in Skyfall.

3. Padmini Nissanga

Nissanga, who is defending her UKIP seat on Kent’s Swale Borough council in May, has been criticised for a Facebook post in which she called Remainers ‘traitors’ who should ‘face the death penalty’.

She told the BBC: ‘This is a democracy, and if people don’t agree they don’t vote for me. I’m very outspoken on Facebook, but this is because I am very patriotic.’

Her post continued: ‘We got Remainers? More than half of them are foreigners. Where are our English people going to live?’ Ms Nissanga is originally from Sri Lanka.

2. Nadine Dorries

A best-selling author in her spare time, the mid-Bedfordshire MP keeps her finger firmly on the pulse of popular culture.

‘I feel like I’m in Groundhog Day, with things constantly changing around us,’ she told Politics Live, thus revealing herself to be possibly the only person in Britain who does not know the plot of Groundhog Day.

This is Nadine’s most embarrassing knowledge gap since October 2017, when she asked colleagues in the ERG’s WhatsApp group how the customs union worked. Her messages included ‘I need to find out what countries are members and have free trade agreements with other countries first’ and ‘Is there any reason why, if countries outside of the EU are in the CU, we can’t remain in the CU going forward?’

1. Roger Helmer

What will be the Brexiteers’ tactics in forthcoming elections? ‘I intend to go to the polling station and write BREXIT in big block letters across the ballot paper,’ tweeted former MEP Helmer, famous for once being photographed ‘resting his eyes’ in the EU parliament.

Piers Morgan has declared that if a People’s Vote happens, ‘I will never vote in another election or referendum again’, while Daniel ‘Brain of Brexit’ Hannan claims that ‘the correct response for any Leaver to a new poll would be to refuse to sanction it with our participation’.

In short: The best way to deliver Brexit is not to vote for Brexit. A cunning plan worthy of Baldrick himself.

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