The elections watchdog, which Leave campaigners have long accused of being biased and stuffed with Remainers, was initially resistant to looking into extensive allegations of Remain groups co-ordinating their activities in order to circumvent spending limits.
It has now concluded a limited investigation into the allegations after significant pressure was applied by senior Brexiteers such as Priti Patel MP — who now serves as Home Secrearty in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.
“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… This raises serious questions about the impartiality of the Electoral Commission,” Patel wrote in 2018, contrasting the watchdog’s laissez-faire attitude towards Remain campaigners with its repeated investigations into Leave campaigners, some of whom were subjected to draconian sanctions — which were later overturned in court.
Not exactly on narrative for remainers… https://t.co/hmvx2fBdsI
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 20, 2017
In an official update on the investigation into joint spending allegations which the Electoral Commission finally did carry out, the watchdog explained that a group called Wake Up and Vote (WUAV) had “reported campaign spending totalling £66,382.77, including £24,000 spent on a campaign called the 5 seconds campaign,” while another called DDB UK Limited “ran the 5 seconds campaign with WUAV and reported spending £51,812.90 on it, and reported a donation of £24,000 from WUAV.”
The Electoral Commission “found that the 5 seconds campaign was a joint campaign run by WUAV and DDB UK Limited. Spending on the campaign was joint or common plan spending. Both campaigners should therefore have reported the total amount, £75,812.90.
“However, while WUAV reported its own spending of £24,000, it did not declare this as joint spending and did not declare the £51,812.90 spent by DDB UK Limited… DDB UK Limited also failed to declare the joint spending by it and by WUAV.”
Major Pro-EU Remain Campaign Group Fined for Making False Declarations During EU Referendum https://t.co/CMVtLgM2Yg
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) October 19, 2017
Both Wake Up and Vote and DDB UK Limited had an important legal duty to accurately declare joint spending in their referendum spending returns,” said the Electoral Commission’s Director of Regulation, Louise Edwards, of the findings.
“Both failed to do so, meaning that voters, looking at the reported spending, had no way of knowing that WUAV and DDB UK Limited had worked together on a campaign, or of how much either campaigner spent in total.
However, the watchdog imposed only a trifling fine of £1,800 on WUAV, with DDB UK escpaing sanction because it had already been fined “£1,000 for other inaccuracies in its spending return” in 2018.
Brexiteers expressed considerable frustration at the punishment’s mildness, with Labour Leave general-secretary Brendan Chilton claiming that his group “got slapped with a £9,000 fine for an admin error on a form.”
“Remain campaign actually breaks the law and gets fined £1800. Proportionality? Fairness?” he accused.
Farage: Electoral Commission Behaviour Shows Establishment Is Rotten to the Core https://t.co/LLiCf8COBi
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 21, 2019
The Guido Fawkes blog, which along with the Sunday Telegraph had gone to some lengths to press the Electoral Commission to investigate the allegations, also suggested that the findings against WUAV and DDB UK were “only a partial victory”, as they were just two of five groups “all set up less than a month before the referendum, sharing big donors, and in total funnelling more than a million pounds into the Remain cause.”
“[A]s Pritis dossier shows, the Electoral Commission [only] scratched the surface” the blog complained.
Delingpole: To Deliver #Brexit Boris Must Scrap the Biased, Incompetent, Remainer Electoral Commission https://t.co/6IdYXkCtdW
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 20, 2019
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