The Electoral Commission are appealing after their humiliating defeat in the High Court last week. They maintain that the advice they gave regarding the ability of Vote Leave to donate to other campaigns was correct. If they win this appeal then Vote Leave acted properly on their advice, if they lose it confirms they gave dodgy advice during the referendum. Either way this shows up the Electoral Commission to be an utter shambles.
Vote Leave boss Matthew Elliott has called on the Electoral Commission’s CEO Claire Bassett to “at the very least” consider her position:
“Leggatt’s judgement last week would drive a coach and horses through electoral law, so it’s understandable that the Electoral Commission is appealing it. But it also marked a humiliating defeat for the Commission, who were shown to have given duff advice to Vote Leave.
Along with the other Commission shenanigans of recent years, this whole situation raises questions about whether they are fit for purpose. At the very least, Claire Bassett should be considering her position.”
The call for heads to roll at the Electoral Commission is cross party…
Embattled Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has not been having a great time of it of late. However, he earned a brief respite this afternoon as Guido learned that the Electoral Commission has thwarted an attempt by a group of disgruntled commuters to launch a new “Chris Grayling is a Moron” party to take him on in his Epsom and Ewell seat.
The Electoral Commission told the peeved passengers that it was likely to refuse the proposed name on the basis that it “could be considered offensive” and could also include “words the publication of which would be likely to amount to the commission of an offence”. Spoilsports…
The High Court has made a remarkable ruling in the long-running legal battle over Vote Leave’s spending in the EU referendum, finding that the Electoral Commission itself issued incorrect advice to Leave campaigners during the referendum.
Their mistake means that Vote Leave and other Leave campaigners have been embroiled in a hugely costly legal battle for two years – solely as a result of erroneous advice given to them by the Electoral Commission in the first place.
Vote Leave are clear that they would not have made donations in the way they did had they not secured explicit written advice from the Electoral Commission that it was legal to do so. Former Vote Leave Chief Executive Matthew Elliott described it as an “Alice in Wonderland” situation:
“We find ourselves in a complete Alice in Wonderland situation. Vote Leave asked for, and received, the Electoral Commission’s advice. We followed that advice. During the judicial review, the Electoral Commission tried to avoid admitting that it had given that advice to us, but we were able to establish that they had – and the judges clearly ruled in the Preliminary Hearing that we had received that advice. Yet we are now told that, by having followed that advice, we broke the law.”
Elliott added that the situation was a “mess of the Electoral Commission’s own making” and that the ruling had thrown electoral law “into total chaos”:
“The Electoral Commission’s defeat in the High Court today has thrown electoral law for future elections and referendums into total chaos. Either the Electoral Commission is wrong or the High Court is wrong.
“Should the Electoral Commission choose not to appeal this judgment, they will be admitting that they gave Vote Leave incorrect advice and they should immediately reconsider the unfair fines they are seeking to impose on us because Vote Leave would not have made the donations that it did had it not been for the Commission’s clear advice.
“This whole situation is a mess of the Electoral Commission’s own making, and their defeat in the High Court today must force a rethink. They now have a chance to rectify their errors. They should do the right thing.”
The law on campaigners working together is notoriously unclear, which is why Vote Leave sought to clarify it with the Electoral Commission in the first place. How can the Electoral Commission go ahead with fining Vote Leave entirely on the basis of an error they made themselves?
The High Court’s judgement describes the Electoral Commission as “unconstructive”, “arbitrary” and lacking “any rational basis” for its actions. They have ruled that the Electoral Commission itself does not understand electoral law. How can the Electoral Commission possibly be fit for purpose if it does not even understand electoral law itself?
UKIP appear to have raised more than the SNP and Greens. Note that these totals represent the sum of those donations large enough to be above the legal thresholds – so this does not include smaller donations. The Communist Party obviously suffering now their support is going direct to Corbyn…
Darren Grimes will be submitting his Appeal to the County Court this week, following the overwhelming response of Guido readers, supporting his righteous fight against the biased Electoral Commission. An incredible 97% of Darren’s target has been raised so far from almost 2,000 donors, each making an average pledge of just £32. 25% of the 1803 pledges came from people aged 25-34.
Remainer rag Private Eye has clearly been reading Guido again, with their satirical take on Darren Grimes’ righteous crusade to fight the biased Electoral Commission. Guido thinks that Private Eye’s public schoolboys should try punching up at the cheating monied remainers rather than kicking down at the working class kid from County Durham.
The Electoral Commission has today announced that it will not be pursuing Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) over the five last minute campaigns that Remain campaigners set up in the month before the referendum, into which more than £1 million was funnelled. They concluded that the daily phone calls co-ordinating the various Remain campaigns did not “meet the threshold for an investigation to be opened”, claiming such phone calls were merely ‘advisory’. And it gets worse…
The Electoral Commission claims that videos hosted on the BSE website but paid for by one of those five late registering campaigns did not count as evidence of a ‘common plan’. Did investigators not think to ask BSE how they came across the videos? A reasonable assumption would be that BSE asked the producers for a copy. Did the EC ask to be supplied with any such communications?
Similarly, different media outlets at the time reported different campaigns had funded the videos. The Electoral Commission’s response is that the “evidential weight we can reasonably put on these accounts is limited, as they do not offer reasons for their claims and are contradictory”. But did the EC even bother to ask the authors of the articles who had briefed them these stories? Any competent investigation would realise that the easiest way to discover the reasons for the different media reports would be to ask the media outlets themselves. BSE used a video from another campaign and passed it off as its own without having to pay for it, and the Electoral Commission rejects the idea that this could be circumventing campaign spending rules.
The Electoral Commission found one part of Priti Patel’s comprehensive dossier to warrant official investigation, namely whether the campaign‘Wake Up and Vote’ incurred joint spending with the adverting firm that registered as a campaigner, DDB Ltd. Leaving BSE to get away with it…
Whatever you think about Brexit, whatever you think about the referendum, this is objectively a double standard from the Electoral Commission. They have been presented with clear evidence of Remain campaign collusion, and yet claimed it does not meet the threshold. Says it all…
David Banks, who volunteered for the Leave group ‘Veterans For Britain’, has suffered four investigations by the Electoral Commission. He had to spend a year of his life combating their allegations, working on exonerating himself alongside working full time and being a carer. After all that, the only problem the Commission could find was one date error, which Banks himself corrected during the reporting stage and which he admitted from the start. For this he was fined the princely sum of £250.
Another leaver who has been hounded, targeted, and scraped over by the biased Electoral Commission, trying to find any tiny detail to delegitimise the votes of 17.4 million people. All this while they refuse to investigate the Remain campaign…
Brexit hero Darren Grimes’s crowdfunder to help him appeal the Electoral Commission’s ridiculous fine has reached its £20,000 target in just two hours, after hundreds of Guido readers reached into their pockets to donate. As we go to pixel a whopping 564 people have donated, the average donation so far has been £35. Cash raised will make sure Darren has the best legal case to take to court and fight the Electoral Commission. You can donate here.
Darren Grimes, the BeLeave Brexit hero of the revolution who has been hit with a huge personal £20,000 fine by the Electoral Commission – for the crime of accidentally ticking the wrong box – is crowdfunding an appeal. Darren is raising £20,000 to fight the decision and expose the Electoral Commission’s shameless Remain bias. The Remainer-stuffed Electoral Commission has repeatedly refused to investigate the Remain campaign despite the huge evidence against them, setting a different standard for the Leave campaign and vindictively pursuing a 24 year-old Brexiteer with the maximum fine for the flimsiest of charges. Darren says:
“I want to fight the Commission’s verdict. I want to do this for two reasons. One, I think their judgment against me is wrong, terribly unfair and vindictive. Two, I fear that, if we allow the electoral commission to get away with this, they will keep going after those who support Brexit. According to expert legal analysis, the Commission are wrong in law, wrong in fact and have been wholly unreasonable. I am very confident that the Appeal Court will overturn their decision – and in doing so will force the Commission to reconsider the way it conducts itself. But I need your help to do it.”
Whatever you think about Brexit, the Electoral Commission’s behaviour over Darren Grimes has been patently disproportionate. You can help donate to his Crowdfunder to appeal the decision and expose the biased Electoral Commission here…
After finding Vote Leave guilty of breaking electoral law this morning, the Electoral Commission are claiming that officials from the Brexit campaign refused to attend interviews. Yet this email from Louise Edwards, the Tory-hating Electoral Commission boss, to lawyers for the Vote Leave officials says otherwise:
Eh? Which is it? And how on earth can they reasonably find an organisation guilty of breaking the law without hearing their side of the story? Justice – Electoral Commission style…
This was Louise Edwards excuse to Vote Leave boss Dominic Cummings for failing to speak to him, emailed yesterday. Essentially, she is arguing the Electoral Commission only made claims about Vote Leave as a whole so don’t need to speak to the key players involved. Which does not seem to be justice in any sense. Real possibility the Commission could be sued here…
The Electoral Commission is facing difficult questions this morning after it emerged they are to find Vote Leave guilty of breaking electoral law despite refusing to hear evidence that would have disproved the central claims. BeLeave’s Darren Grimes, who was 22 at the time, is expecting to be fined £20,000 for filling in his forms wrongly. The Commission failed to interview a single senior Vote Leave staff member during its investigation, or at any point in the last two years. They heard evidence from the discredited whistleblowers making the allegations, yet didn’t allow Vote Leave figures to defend themselves against the claims, despite multiple attempts from Vote Leave officials to meet the Commission and provide evidence. This is a real breach of natural justice – whatever you think of Brexit and the merits of the case, is it justice if the Electoral Commission find someone guilty of a criminal offence without allowing them to give a defence?
It gets worse, the Electoral Commission’s failure to discuss any of their accusations with Vote Leave means that many of them are just factually incorrect. The central finding was reached because the Commission wrongly claimed that a bombshell email from Dominic Cummings to donor Anthony Clake proved that Vote Leave were raising donations for BeLeave with the intention of obliging the latter to spend that money on AIQ. They missed evidence from other internal emails that BeLeave had in fact requested money to spend on AIQ weeks before. So the Electoral Commission’s bombshell email… isn’t.
The Commission claims that BeLeave’s messaging was controlled by Vote Leave, yet they again refused to speak to anyone from Vote Leave to challenge that assertion. They even ignored evidence from the whistleblowers themselves that the messaging was in fact controlled by BeLeave. This point just looks nakedly partisan from the Electoral Commission – even Carole Cadwalladr doesn’t make this claim.
There are basic factual errors, the Commission claimed BeLeave was established in May 2016, it was in fact established and was active for many months before. The Commission’s own former retained barrister, Tim Straker QC, has noted that their continual mistakes amount to “an error in law”.
This is all without mentioning the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate the wealth of evidence that the Remain campaign colluded on a much greater scale. Guido can understand why Remain campaigners want to do in Vote Leave and overturn Brexit, but this stitch up from the Electoral Commission is objectively not justice…
Priti Patel has handed a dossier of evidence to the Electoral Commission that demonstrates beyond doubt that the various Remain campaigns coordinated their spending in breach of the rules. The Commission’s guidance is clear: “you are very likely to be working together if you have joint advertising campaigns”. That is exactly what the various supposedly independent campaigns did regarding the “Don’t F*ck My Future” advertising campaign. Guido cannot see how the Remain campaigns can claim they did not co-ordinate.
Having looked through the documents on the Electoral Commission’s website, I note that, according to Adam & Eve/DDB’s returns, producing these advertisements cost in excess of £76,000. However, only one campaign – Wake Up And Vote – ever paid an invoice to DDB for producing the videos, and only for £24,000. The remainder of the cost appears to have been funded by a mixture of payments and donations from other campaigns and major Remain donors.
Wake Up And Vote
Directly invoiced by ‘Adam and Eve’. Asked to pay £24,000 for the video
Wake Up And Vote received the entirety of their funding (£100,000) from Lisbet Rausing, one of the main donors to Britain Stronger in Europe and Conservatives IN
Britain Stronger in Europe
Gave £7,467 to DDB on 1 June for ‘advertising’, but this was declared as notional expenditure with ‘Adam & Eve’, so no invoice or further details were provided. This means it is unclear what precise advertising it is for.
We Are Europe
Gave £10,000 to DDB on 29 June but did not declare any joint spending
We Are Europe received the majority of its funding from two of Britain Stronger in Europe’s main donors, Lord Sainsbury (£116,000) and Ian Taylor (£99,000)
Britain Stronger in Europe, Wake Up And Vote, We Are Europe, and DDB were all registered as independent campaigners in their own right but none declared this as joint spending. Despite only one campaign paying an invoice for the advertisements and registering this with the Electoral Commission, multiple campaigns were reported to be involved in producing the videos:
14th June – it was reported that the ads were made for We Are Europe
14th June – in an interview with the co-founder of ‘We Are Europe’, it was reported that the videos are a ‘collaboration between agencies adam&eveDDB and Kin&Co, alongside campaign groups Wake up & Vote and We Are Europe’ (link)
15th June – it was reported that the ad was made for Britain Stronger In Europe
24th June – it was reported that the ads were made for We are EU (presumably ‘We are Europe’)
Britain Stronger in Europe, Wake Up And Vote, We Are Europe, and DDB all distributed these videos widely on social media. And despite not reporting any payments towards the cost of the video, Britain Stronger in Europe hosted the advert on its website, with no branding added to suggest that it was not an official Britain Stronger in Europe video. It is important to note that the video on the website was not ‘shared’ (which might be seen as in keeping with the rules), but was actually hosted. This means that Britain Stronger in Europe were provided with a service which they then made use of in their advertising. To anyone visiting their website, it would have appeared that the video was produced by Britain Stronger in Europe for their campaign purposes. This is a clear breach of the spending rules.
Priti quite reasonably says:
This goes further than any accusations levelled at Vote Leave about having a ‘common plan’ for campaign activity. This provides demonstrable evidence that Remain campaigns colluded in producing adverts with a ‘common plan’, and in doing so avoided the cost of the project being included in Britain Stronger in Europe’s spending.
The Electoral Commission say they are considering the evidence. It would be a joke if they do not investigate this clear evidence of spending coordination…
Following fresh revelations today about the Remain campaign overspend during the referendum, Priti Patel has written to the Electoral Commission calling for an investigation. Readers will remember the Electoral Commission refused to investigate previous evidence of Remain overspending, despite investigating Vote Leave for the same thing. Priti warns the Commission there are questions over their impartiality – Guido has the letter:
I am writing, further to our correspondence earlier this year, and in light of the revelations in the Sunday Telegraph about new evidence of services being shared among the various Remain campaigns in the 2016 EU referendum.
I am sure you share my deep concerns that Britain Stronger in Europe seems to have been provided with services by other Remain campaigns without declaring the expenditure in the appropriate way. There is evidence that many campaigns appear to have acted as a mere continuity of the official Remain campaign as it approached its spending limit, the most egregious example of this being the regrettably named ‘Don’t f*ck my future’ campaign, which many different Remain organisations appear to have involved themselves in.
As you will be well aware, the findings in the Sunday Telegraph are just the latest example of concerns being raised about how the Remain campaign conducted itself during the referendum. There have been numerous ‘warning signals’ over the last few months, including several media reports that have strongly suggested that Britain Stronger in Europe tried to circumvent the Electoral Commission’s rules during the EU referendum. As a reminder, these include:
Admissions by senior figures within Britain Stronger in Europe that they were coordinating messaging and campaign activity with other Remain campaigns including Labour In, Conservatives In and the Liberal Democrats.
The fact that a number of Remain campaigns were set up in the month leading up to the referendum, which received hundreds of thousands of pounds from donors who had previously made payments to Britain Stronger in Europe and other pro-EU campaigns.
Reports that Britain Stronger in Europe were delegating ground campaign activity to the Labour Party, potentially sharing campaign material such as leaflets and canvassing data.
When I wrote to you earlier this year to highlight some of these concerning pieces of evidence you decided to take no action – claiming there were no ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that these activities were ‘part of a common plan or other arrangement’. We are now faced with a situation where others are instead having to undertake the sort of investigation that the Commission should have taken months ago. It is all the more concerning, as a significant proportion of the evidence cited in the Sunday Telegraph report appears to have come from the Electoral Commission’s own records.
This raises serious questions about the impartiality of the Electoral Commission. The material uncovered in the Sunday Telegraph, coupled with the evidence made public earlier this year, suggests that the Commission has decided to hold Leave campaigns to one standard, and Remain campaigners to another, much lower standard.
In November last year, you decided to open a third investigation into the official Vote Leave campaign, even though you admitted in your assessment that there was no new evidence to justify the reopening of this investigation. Despite the absence of any suggestion that the official Leave campaign indulged in the apparent collusion described above, you have nonetheless continued your investigation.
In reopening the case, you set a very low threshold for triggering an investigation into a campaign. And yet, despite setting this low threshold, you have since refused to open any sort of investigation into the Remain campaign – despite the ever-growing volume of evidence that these campaigners were breaking the Commission’s rules.
I am not unsympathetic to the challenges that the Electoral Commission faces. I understand the reasons behind your suggestion to Parliament that the rules on coordination need to be reviewed. But while I accept the argument that the law should be improved – and that this is beyond your control – what is undeniably in your control is the power to treat campaigns equally.
I believe that the Electoral Commission has an important role to play in our democracy, but that role comes with an important responsibility – to be politically neutral at all times. If you want to restore confidence in the Commission, you should either start a formal investigation into Britain Stronger in Europe, or show equity and end the investigation in Vote Leave. The public – and Parliament – want to see the Commission acting with political balance.
I look forward to hearing from you .
The Rt. Hon. Priti Patel
The threshold for investigation is low, the Electoral Commission is already investigating Vote Leave for lesser alleged offences… It would tell you all you need to know about the Remainer-stuffed Electoral Commission if they refuse to look into this…
The Electoral Commission is up in front of the Culture select committee this morning. Guido is sure the Remainer-packed committee, which has been the most one-sided, non-reality based, grandstanding committee by a mile under the tenure of ultra-Remainer chairman Damian Collins, will ask about the Remain campaign’s overspend. A good place to start would be Priti Patel’s letter to the Electoral Commission outlining clear evidence of Remain spending breaches, which for some strange reason the Commission declined to investigate. Culture committee members can read up on the evidence here. Surely Collins will want to ask about the Commission’s double standards?
Tory councillors and activists are preparing a report for the Electoral Commission after becoming concerned about at last Friday’s “chaotic” Tower Hamlets count. Multiple sources at the heavily policed count described alleged failings including:
Failure to replace all teams of counters between the mayoral count (Thursday night) and the council count (Friday afternoon);
Both the council ballot verification process (Thursday night) and the count itself being “very disorganised”. Observers said staff seemed unsure how to verify and count split votes, so political counting agents and candidates had to explain to them how to do it…
Suspicions intensified when the result for the Island Gardens was announced: it put Conservative group leader Peter Golds in 4th place. The Tories asked for a recheck because this didn’t match up with their tallies. Golds went from fourth place to second place after the recheck…
On polling day numerous issues had been reported including EU citizens being turned away at polling stations. Golds told Guido:
“Anyone who tries to describe what happened on Friday as a count should reconsider their opinion. The whole thing was a complete and utter shambles. From start to finish the count was totally disorganised, staff didn’t know what they were doing, with ballot papers being misplaced and counting procedures made up on the spot. Following government directions the council have had years to prepare for this election. We were still the last authority in the country to declare a result and there are still concerns that several results may not be correct.”
“The Electoral Commission have serious questions to answer, they need to look carefully at what happened here and sort out the legitimate concerns that people have for over elections once and for all.”
An Electoral Commission spokesman said:
“While it took time for Tower Hamlets to complete its count and declare results for all 20 wards, the processes and procedures that were put in place to address past issues were well managed. Representatives from the Electoral Commission were present throughout the Tower Hamlets count, no issues were raised with them Anyone who does have concerns should contact the Returning Officer for Tower Hamlets.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s re-elected mayor in Tower Hamlets proclaimed the borough has “moved on” from its history of corruption issues. Not quite…
Following the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate the Remain campaign despite clear evidence of spending breaches, Priti Patel has accused them of bias and “double standards”. Priti notes that the Commission launched a full investigation into Vote Leave over claims of spending collusion – despite no evidence – and yet are refusing to look at BSE even though a whole dossier of evidence was submitted to them. Priti has a point – how can they investigate the Leavers when there is no evidence, but ignore evidence of Remainers overspending?
What is particularly concerning is that you decided on 20 November 2017 to reopen an investigation into Vote Leave Limited and Mr Darren Grimes, in spite of the fact that there is much less evidence of a common plan. As you acknowledge at  of the Review of Assessments – ‘there are no direct indications of the campaigners working together’ (my emphasis added) and that – as you state at  – that ‘the Commission is not aware of what any such communications [between Vote Leave and Mr Grimes] contained or whether it indicated a common plan or arrangement was in place’.
In other words – despite the fact that there is no evidence of Vote Leave Limited or Mr Grimes engaging in joint planning (even of an advisory nature) – you have been persuaded of the need for a full investigation. However, when clear documented evidence of the Remain campaigns coordinating specific messaging is presented to you, this is dismissed as ‘advisory’. This would appear to be a clear case of double standards.
Priti not unreasonably alleges the Electoral Commission have a lower bar for investigating Leavers than Remainers:
I have to conclude that the Electoral Commission appears to have used an extraordinarily low bar – arguably, far too low a bar— when deciding to open your new investigation on Vote Leave and other campaigners for Brexit, yet have set a very high bar when deciding to open an investigation into Britain Stronger in Europe.
The Electoral Commission has confirmed it is looking into whether the Remain campaign coordinated its spending and shared campaign materials in breach of the rules. Responding to Priti Patel’s letter from last week, the Commission said:
“That Britain Stronger In Europe may have failed to report joint spending with the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and Conservatives IN by way of paying for campaign materials and/or coordinating campaigns via a daily phone call… This matter is under assessment in line with our Enforcement Policy, to determine whether or not the Commission should conduct an investigation.”
They say they will report back within two weeks. Would be very unlike the Electoral Commission to talk up allegations of Leave rule breaches but talk down the Remain campaign doing the same thing, wouldn’t it?