The BeLeave activist who won his appeal against an Electoral Commission (EC) fine has suggested the ombusdman took action under pressure from ‘wealthy Remain activists’.
Darren Grimes was fined £20,000 by the EC in 2018 after allegedly making false declarations in relation to a £61,000 donation made to BeLeave from the official Vote Leave campaign.
The official campaign was found to have breached spending limits via the joint working with BeLeave. While Vote Leave dropped its appeal before a ruling could be made, taking on an additional £180,000 to cover the EC’s legal costs, Grimes’ appeal against the ombusdman was successful and his fine was dropped.
MORE: Vote Leave ordered to pay more than triple after failed Electoral Commission legal challengeSpeaking on BBC’s Politics Live following his court victory, 25-year-old Grimes said that the reason Vote Leave had dropped its appeal was the expense. “It’s expensive to do this,” he said.
Journalist Miranda Green took him to task for this. “Vote Leave … is a large organisation which does actually have very, very good funding from enthusiastic backers of Brexit,” she said. “So let’s face it, if they wanted to fight, they would. The suggestion that Vote Leave is some sort of victim in this is a bit ridiculous.”
The former fashion student has fuelled his £90,000 crowdfunding campaign to cover legal costs with accusations of political bias from the EC. On Politics Live, he said the EC had opened its investigations after campaigns from what he called “wealthy Remain activists”.
He referred to The Good Law Project, a campaign that crowdfunds cases over issues like taxation, the Grenfell disaster, and Brexit, and is run by pro-Remain QC Jolyon Maugham.
Grimes called the EC the “provisional wing of the Remain campaign”, despite host Jo Coburn pointing out the two fines the EC has handed out to Remain campaigns. He went on to argue that there had been an extra level of scrutiny on the Leave campaigns.
Pro-Brexit commentator Iain Dale backed him up, saying: “If you look at the makeup of the board of the EC, if you want to see a conspiracy, it’s very easy to do so.”
“I think you need to dial downt he conspiracy stuff, I don’t think that’s good for democracy,” said panellist Frances O’Grady.
A Metropolitan Police investigation to assess whether either organisation, as well as Leave.EU, have committed criminal offences, is still ongoing. The Met have stated that one of these enquiries is now at an advanced stage.
MORE: Police say Brexit investigation ‘nearing completion’ as Remain MPs demand answersThe EC is now considering an appeal to the decision which went in favour of Grimes. After the announcement, a spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the Court has upheld Mr Grimes’ appeal. We will now review the full detail of the judgement before deciding on next steps, including any appeal.”
When Grimes claimed that Vote Leave
The founder of pro-Brexit campaign group BeLeave has won his appeal against a £20,000 fine imposed by the Electoral Commission.
Darren Grimes was fined in 2018 after being accused of breaching spending rules during the EU referendum campaign three years ago.
But the 25-year-old insisted he was “completely innocent” of making false declarations in relation to a £680,000 donation to his youth-focused BeLeave group from the main Vote Leave campaign.
The Electoral Commission – which regulates political parties, members and campaigners – found that BeLeave “spent more than £675,000 with (Canadian data firm) Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave”, which should have been declared by the latter but was not.
This spending took Vote Leave over its £7 million legal spending limit by almost £500,000.
Mr Grimes, a former fashion student originally from County Durham, raised £93,956 via an online crowdfunding campaign to appeal against the verdict of the commission at the Mayor’s and City of London Court in Central London.
Following the ruling he said: “I am delighted and relieved that the court has found me innocent.
“This case has taken a huge toll on myself and my family, and I’m thankful it’s now over. I will be eternally grateful to all those people who have supported me – your generosity and kind words of encouragement have kept me going.”
In the message, posted on Twitter, he hit out at the watchdog’s handling of the case.
“The Electoral Commission’s case was based on an incorrectly ticked box on an application form -something that it had been aware of for over two years and had not been raised in two previous investigations.
“Yet the Commission still saw fit to issue an excessive fine and to spend almost half a million in taxpayer cash pursuing me through the courts. This raises serious questions about its conduct both during and after the referendum.
“It’s vital that more young people are encouraged to get involved in politics and make their voices heard. I just hope that the punitive actions of the Electoral Commission don’t put my generation off from engaging in our democracy.”