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Former Vote Leave chief Matthew Elliott questions whether Electoral Commission is 'fit for purpose' after £61,000 fine

Vote Leave are questioning whether the Electoral Commission is "fit for purpose" after they have been judged to have broken electoral law during the referendum campaign.

In an exclusive interview, former Vote Leave chief Matthew Elliott told ITV News: “I think there is a real question whether it [the Electoral Commission] is an institution if it’s fit for purpose.”

“We are bemused by the findings… we have provided a very detailed 500-page response answering all of their points.”

“We are very disappointed that they haven’t actually taken up our points or engaged with them in any meaningful way… we feel like it is a very one-sided report, we wish they followed due-process and had they done so – just like they gave us the all-clear on the first two occasions they investigated us, they would have given us the all-clear again on the third investigation.”

On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission announced the Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined and referred to the police for breaking electoral law.

The commission said its investigation found “significant evidence” of joint working between lead campaigner, Vote Leave, and another campaign group, BeLeave.

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In an exchange of letters between the Electoral Commission, Mr Elliot asked them, “why are you starting this third investigation into the same matter you looked into on two other occasions?”

“The key point was in the final letter we made it clear to them that we were willing to come in for interview at any point and that’s a position we’ve maintained and reiterated it on several occasions that we will come in and give evidence.”

Vote Leave was found to have overspent by nearly £500,000 by the Electoral Commission. Credit: PA

The commission said: “Evidence shows that BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave.

“This spending should have been declared by Vote Leave.

“It means Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000.

“Vote Leave also returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending.

“Darren Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, was found to have committed two offences and has been fined £20,000.

“Mr Grimes spent more than £675,000 on behalf of BeLeave, a non-registered campaigner that had a spending limit of £10,000.

“Further, he wrongly reported that same spending as his own.

“The commission has now referred both Mr David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Mr Grimes to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending.”

The commission imposed fines of £61,000 on Vote Leave.

£61,000
fine on Vote Leave by the Electoral Commission.
£20,000
fine on Darren Grimes, founder of BeLeave, by the Electoral Commission.

Mr Elliot told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston: “We will definitely take this on – we are consulting with lawyers – it can go to judicial review, we can appeal it… we won’t let this lie. We feel there’s a huge wrong that has been done.”

“I feel very sorry for Darren Grimes over this and what the Electoral Commission have put him through over the past two years is appalling frankly. He has been given a £20,000 fine for essentially ticking the wrong box on their form.”

“I think it’s terrible, they’ve basically spun this out for two years and put him through the ringer for two years – it’s terrible.”

“We’ll make sure Darren has the resources to pay his fine if he chooses to do so.”

The fines relate to campaigning related to the EU referendum in June 2016. Credit: PA

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission director of political finance, said: “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.

“These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.

“Our findings relate primarily to the organisation which put itself forward as fit to be the designated campaigner for the ‘leave’ outcome.”

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Mr Posner added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation.

“It has refused to co-operate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.

“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”