Leave.EU fined £70,000 for breaking electoral law

Nigel Farage supported by Leave EU's Arron Banks (left) and Andy Wigmore (right). Photograph: Isabel

Nigel Farage supported by Leave EU's Arron Banks (left) and Andy Wigmore (right). Photograph: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment. - Credit: EMPICS Entertainment

Brexit campaign group Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 for breaking rules on spending during the EU referendum campaign, the Electoral Commission has announced.

The group, co-founded by former Ukip backer Arron Banks, overspent by at least £77,380 - 10% over the limit for non-party registered groups - an investigation found.

The commission said the actual figure 'may well have been considerably higher', adding that the group had presented 'incomplete and inaccurate' information about spending.

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But it said it found no evidence that controversial tech firm Cambridge Analytica had made donations or provided paid-for services, and its role was limited to 'initial scoping work'.

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It also said that a case has been referred to the Metropolitan Police, and will be continuing with a separate probe into spending by the official Leave campaign, Vote Leave.

The £70,000 fine handed out by the Electoral Commission matches its previous record financial censure, handed out in March 2017 to the Conservatives for offences during the 2015 general election campaign and by-elections the previous year.

Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission's director of political finance and regulation, and 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.'

Electoral Commission chief executive Claire Bassett added on Radio 4: 'It is quite clear that those transaction returns contained inaccurate information about purported loans to Leave.EU and it also contains significant errors about how money was spent - money was missing and invoices were missing.'

Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks has attacked the decision and threatened to take legal action.

He told the Today programme the organisation was biased against the Leave campaign, adding: 'The entire commission is composed of former MPs, liberal MPs, the SNP, former Labour leaders of councils, all sorts of people that all believe in Remain.

'I can tell you one thing: we will not be letting matters rest here, we will be going to court to challenge this. It's certainly not the last word on the subject.'

Tory MP Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said Mr Banks and Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU's communications director, would face questions from the committee next month.

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