UK official Brexit campaign fined for breaching spending rules

UK Electoral Commission rules that Vote Leave exceeded spending limits as PM May faces deep divisions over Brexit.

    The UK's official Brexit campaign has been fined and referred to police for breaking spending rules [Darren Staples/Reuters]
    The UK's official Brexit campaign has been fined and referred to police for breaking spending rules [Darren Staples/Reuters]

    The UK's Electoral Commission has fined the official campaign for Britain to leave the European Union and referred it to police for breaching spending rules in the 2016 referendum. 

    In a report published on Tuesday, the Electoral Commission fined Vote Leave 61,000 British pounds ($81,000) for exceeding the legal spending limit of 7 million British pounds (about $9.2m) by nearly 500,000 British pounds ($662,000), The organisation broke the rules by working with another pro-Brexit campaign group, BeLeave, without declaring it, the report said. 

    The commission said it is "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt" that payments totalling 675,000 British pounds (about $894,000) by BeLeave to data analytics firm AggregateIQ were made "under a common plan with Vote Leave". 

    Vote Leave's David Halsall and BeLeave founder Darren Grimes were referred to police. 

    "We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits," Bob Posner, the commission's director of political finance and regulation said. 

    Under UK electoral law, campaign groups may work together towards a common goal, but their spending cannot exceed the individual spending limit for the lead campaigner. 

    A Vote Leave spokesman said the report suggested the Electoral Commission is "motivated by a political agenda". 

    "[The report] contains a number of false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny," the spokesman said in a statement. 

    AggregateIQ has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, which came under fire for allegedly using illegally obtained data of millions of Facebook users to target potential swing voters in political campaigns. AggregateIQ has said they never worked with the firm with respect to the Brexit campaign. 

    Starkly divided

    The Electoral Commission's findings come as Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative party remains starkly divided over if and how the UK should split from the European Union. 

    Last week, two key ministers resigned from May's cabinet over her Brexit blueprint. Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson abandoned their posts in advance of the blueprint's publication.

    On Monday, former Education Secretary Justine Greening became the first senior Conservative legislator to call on May to organise a second referendum, which would give voters a choice between supporting May's plans, a "no-deal" Brexit or remaining part of the EU. 

    In a column published by The Times newspaper, the pro-remain parliamentarian said May's proposal represented "the worst of both worlds". 

    May's government ruled out a new vote on Monday. "There is not going to be a second referendum in any circumstances," a Downing Street spokesman said. 

    Politicians on Monday narrowly approved a bill on post-Brexit customs arrangements after fierce criticism that May had caved to the demands of Brexit hardliners. 

    On Tuesday, the UK's House of Commons will vote on a bill on international trade deals after Brexit. 

    The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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