Electoral Commission due to say Vote Leave exceeded spending limits - reports

PUBLISHED: 09:13 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:35 04 July 2018

Vote Leave campaigners stand by the Vote Leave campaign bus in Truro, Cornwall

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A watchdog is expected to find Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign, breached electoral rules during the referendum, according to reports.

The campaign group's former chief executive, Matthew Elliott, said the Electoral Commission (EC) had concluded that Vote Leave exceeded spending limits and made a donation to a group that it should not have.

But he has accused the EC of a "huge breach of natural justice", alleging that the watchdog had not listened to Vote Leave's version of events.

If found guilty of breaking electoral law, the campaign could be fined.

He told Sky News: "Their initial conclusion is that we have overspent, that a donation we made to another group during the course of the campaign was incorrect, we shouldn't have made that donation."

The EC said Vote Leave had taken an "unusual step" of going public with the findings of its draft report.

Allegations against the official Brexit campaign centre on a donation of almost £680,000 made by the campaign to a youth Brexit group called BeLeave.

It is alleged the money was actually used for the benefit of Vote Leave, to pay data firm Aggregate IQ for targeted messaging services.

If this cash was recorded as Vote Leave expenditure, it would take the campaign's spending over the £7m limit, raising the prospect that electoral law had been breached.

The allegations come from information provided by whistleblowers including Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni.

Mr Wylie worked for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the centre of the Facebook privacy scandal, while Mr Sanni worked with Vote Leave.

Mr Elliott told Sky News: "[The EC] listened to these, quite frankly marginal characters who came out in March, and listened to their stories, but haven't had evidence from Vote Leave side of things.

"I think it is a huge breach of natural justice that they haven't wanted to listen to our opinions and our story and we were the people running the campaign."

In an interview with the BBC he said: "I believe we acted both within the letter of the law and also the spirit of the law and the spirit of how you should conduct a campaign.

"We got the designation, Vote Leave, as the officially designated campaign for Leave, on the basis that we would be working with other groups - we wouldn't just solely be working on our own, we would work alongside other groups and encourage them, and encourage their activities."

An EC spokesman said: "The commission has concluded its investigation and having reached initial findings provided Vote Leave with a 28-day period to make any further or new representations. That period ended on Tuesday 3 July.

"The unusual step taken by Vote Leave in sharing its views on the Electoral Commission's initial findings does not affect the process set out in law.

"The commission will give due consideration to the representations made to the commission, including those made by other campaigners under investigation.

"We will then, at the earliest opportunity, publish a thorough and detailed closing report in order to provide a full and balanced account to the public and to Parliament."

Eloise Todd, CEO of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: "It's good to see the Electoral Commission are taking action to help protect our democratic process, but they can't undo the consequences of Vote Leave's actions.

"Boris and Gove have been uncharacteristically quiet about their part in this scandal.

"Today’s revelations lay bare the need for the public to have the final say on the Brexit deal, in a campaign very different to the last."

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