Vote Leave chair: 'We can't prove our innocence because we destroyed the evidence'

PUBLISHED: 10:37 31 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:38 31 March 2019

Vote Leave chair Gisela Stuart on the BBC Andrew Marr Show.

Vote Leave chair Gisela Stuart on the BBC Andrew Marr Show.

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Former Labour MP Gisela Stuart has said the Vote Leave campaign cannot prove its innocence in an appeal about breaking electoral law - because it has destroyed all of the data.

Stuart told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the appeal was dropped because of the costs associated with fighting its case against the Electoral Commission - and because of the difficulty proving their case.

She said: “Our biggest problem in the end was that we destroyed all our data, and therefore some of the evidential basis which people are asking for.”

The Electoral Commission confirmed last week that Vote Leave, which was supported by senior politicians including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, had withdrawn an appeal against fines for breaches of electoral law committed during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

The watchdog’s investigation centred on a donation of almost £680,000 made by Vote Leave to BeLeave, a youth Brexit group.

This spending took Vote Leave over its £7 million legal spending limit.

Stuart refused to apologise for breaking electoral law, blaming the “unclear rules”. She said she believed Vote Leave had been compliant with the legal advice that they had been provided with.

She added the legislation and interpretation of the law needed rewriting.

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She said: “It was in relation of one particular donation where the Electoral Commission interpreted the rules as that being acting in concert, which we had got legal advice which said it wasn’t.

“So the key question is if anybody wants a second referendum then the referendum legislation as it stands, and the way the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner interprets them, needs rewriting.”

Pressed again if she would apologise on behalf of the campaign, Stuart said: “At every stage we were ruled compliant according to legal advice we were given at that time.

“If money was the question, Remain spent by far more money than Leave did, the government spent more money on the campaign than we did.

“Do not say this was a question of money. This is why I say the rules should have been much clearer.

“We had a compliance committee, our legal advice was always that that was the right thing to do.

“If with hindsight the compliance, the regulators found otherwise, the regulator has the last word.”

Stuart disputed the suggestion that the referendum had been won on lies - saying that “if this referendum had been based on a lie” opinions would have changed.

She claimed that opinions had “hardened” since the vote - ignoring the fact that opinion polls now pointed to Remain being consistently ahead each time.

There have been calls for Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, both figureheads in the Vote Leave campaign, to address questions on the matter.

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