The unofficial Brexit campaign Leave.EU has been handed a fine of £70,000 for breaching finance rules in the 2016 referendum. Who are Leave.EU and what are they supposed to have done wrong?
Who are Leave.EU?
Leave.EU was the campaign linked with Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Set up by businessman Arron Banks and property developer Richard Tice, it lost out to the rival Vote Leave group in the race to be designated lead campaigner in the referendum.
What is a lead campaigner?
In April 2016 – two months before the referendum vote – the Electoral Commission designated a lead campaign group on each side. These two groups had a spending limit of £7 million for campaign activity. Other groups were limited to the lower total of £700,000.
How much did Leave.EU spend?
The group reported spending £693,094 – just below its permitted total. But the Electoral Commission has now found that it failed to include at least £77,380 of additional spending, taking its total 10% above the limit. The Commission found that the unlawful overspend “may well have been considerably higher”.
What makes the Commission think there may have been more unlawful spending?
Leave.EU were found not to have correctly reported £6 million in loans from Mr Banks. The group also paid for services from US firm Goddard Gunster without reporting them as they should. And invoices and receipts were missing for 97 payments totalling more than £80,000.
What was the £77,380 spent on?
The money was paid in fees to the company Better for the Country Ltd, which acted as campaign organiser.
What does the law say about referendum spending?
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000 makes it an offence to exceed campaign spending limits or to fail to provide full and accurate reports of spending.
What is the maximum penalty?
On the four offences where Leave.EU was found to be in breach, there is a maximum fine of £20,000. The Electoral Commission used the maximum penalty on three offences and imposed a £10,000 fine for the fourth. The body said it was been “constrained” by the fine limits from imposing a harsher penalty.
Is there any criminal offence?
The Commission says it has found “reasonable” grounds to suspect that Leave.EU’s chief executive, Liz Bilney knowingly or recklessly signed a false spending declaration. It has referred her to the Metropolitan Police for a possible investigation.