Steve Baker says his ‘conscience is free of any blemish’ – despite sending an email advising Vote Leave could spend as much as it needed.
The email was sent in early 2016 from the Brexiteer deputy chair of the European Research Group, where he claimed the official Leave campaign would ‘be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum.’
On BBC Politics Live he admitted that he had sent the email, but said he believed it was ‘lawful’ at the time, and passed the buck on who gave him the original advice.
Leaked emails last year revealed that Baker told Tory MPs that the ‘designated campaign will be permitted to spend £7 million’.
But he added: ‘It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum.’
Asked on the programme if this was evidence that Vote Leave were looking for ways to exceed spending limits to break the law, he said: ‘The reason that I wrote that down, and I felt able to send that email out to over than 100 Conservative MPs was because at the time when I sent it I believed it was lawful.’
He continued: ‘Now I am extremely angry with the person that badly advised me, they’ve never taken responsibility for poorly advising me to the point that I’ve ended up sitting here today having to defend it.
‘But I am absolutely clear that my conscience is free of any blemish on this issue, and I would also like to point out that in any event, that was written before the regulated period, and people can make mistakes.’
Asked who initially advised him on this, he said: ‘I’m not going to… he would be better placed to come forward himself.’
Presenter Jo Coburn pointed to the fact that the actual breach of law came from the coordinated efforts to utilise separate legal entities, which was what Baker was suggesting in his 2016 email.
But Baker was adamant in the interview that this was not a question for him.
He said: ‘Again I can’t answer for that. You would have to ask the directors of Vote Leave. What I did during the campaign, and indeed before the campaign, was to coordinate Conservative MPs. It’s a job I’ve done for a long time now, I think anybody to tried to do it would understand just to coordinate Conservative MPs, it’s a job in itself, so it’s not a question for me.’
During the interview Baker also refused to answer questions about Michael Gove and Boris Johnson’s involvement in chairing the Vote Leave campaign, and told fellow panelist Emily Thornberry to be careful about the accusations she made.