The Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum had two major participants, both of whom are now encountering their own particular little local difficulties. While former Vote Leave principal Dominic Cummings begins what will be a fruitless fight against being summoned by the Commons DCMS Committee, those involved with Leave EU have been slapped with a near-maximum fine - and the prospect of criminal sanction.
Banksy in the poosy once more
This may be why its co-chair Arron Banks has defiantly told “The Electoral Commission is a ‘Blairite Swamp Creation’ packed full of establishment ‘Remoaners’ that couldn’t quite make it to the House of Lords, but managed to get their noses in the trough via appointment to public bodies like the Electoral Commission … We view the Electoral Commission announcement as a politically motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4m people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain”.
Unfortunately, empty bluster and the threat to see the EC in court - that won’t happen unless Banksy can get someone to stump up the cash - cannot deflect on the very bad news facing him and his pals this morning. As the BBC has reported, “Campaign group Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 for breaches of election law during the 2016 referendum and a senior figure has been referred to the police”.
There was more. “The Electoral Commission said the group - which was separate from the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave - failed to report at least £77,380 it spent … Bob Posner, the Commission's director of political finance and regulation, said it was ‘disappointing’ that Leave.EU, which it called ‘a key player’ in the EU referendum, ‘was unable to abide by these rules’ [adding] ‘The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission's fines’”.
Sky News chipped in “This means Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit by at least 10%, although the Electoral Commission believes the unlawful overspend may have been considerably higher … Officials also found the group, which was initially endorsed by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and was founded by businessmen Arron Banks and Richard Tice, inaccurately reported three loans it received”.
And then came the potentially criminal part. “During the course of its investigation, the Electoral Commission said it found ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ Leave.EU's chief executive Liz Bilney committed criminal offences … She has been referred to the Metropolitan Police”. Ms Bilney had previously been combative over her involvement.
Indeed, she tried to frighten off the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr with the implicit threat of legal action, telling “I'm interested to see if there's a defamation claim … I will be looking very closely at @carolecadwalla”. That might not go down so well with the Met.
Despite the bravado from Arron Banks, and the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog so far ignoring the news - it won’t make it go away, lads - the reaction from MPs and MEPs shows how serious this is. The Leave campaign has been caught cheating, with one arm blatantly overspending, while another is mired in a struggle with the DCMS Committee which it is going to lose.
You can’t claim it’s the “Will of the people” if you broke the law. End of story.