Brexit Bulletin: Vote Leave Claims Reach the Commons

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Did the pro-Brexit camp break spending rules during the 2016 referendum campaign? Allegations that they did led to calls for an emergency debate, and Members of Parliament will now have their say on Tuesday.

Lawyers acting for whistleblowers said on Monday there was evidence that spending rules were broken.

Vote Leave, the main pro-Brexit campaign, gave money to a smaller campaign group, BeLeave, and then helped direct how it was spent, according to a 50-page legal opinion by attorneys from London’s Matrix Chambers. If that £625,000 ($889,000) donation had been included in Vote Leave’s accounts it would have taken the group over its £7 million spending limit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called the claims “utterly ludicrous.” Darren Grimes, who ran BeLeave, declined to comment. Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, has also dismissed them.

BeLeave whistleblower Shahmir Shanni and Christopher Wylie of Cambridge Analytica debated recent revelations at an event in London on Monday night.

The question is whether the allegations will move the Brexit debate in a nation that’s more divided than ever on EU membership with just a year to go until the U.K. leaves. While many voters won’t tune in, and it won’t change their minds about why they voted, the claims do provide those campaigning for a second referendum with more ammunition.

“If the story runs (and it will) it will help anti-Brexit campaigners in the autumn as they put pressure on MPs to block or delay Brexit,” says Mujtaba Rahman of Eurasia Group. “The 2016 referendum will not be re-run, but if it becomes widely accepted that Vote Leave cheated (and the Electoral Commission agrees) then it will strengthen the case for another referendum.”

There’s also a question of momentum. Prime Minister Theresa May is due to bring her Brexit deal back from Brussels toward the end of this year and that’s when anti-Brexit campaigners are planning to mobilize. But that’s still a long way off: a month can feel like a long time in Brexit politics, let alone six.

Brexit Latest

May’s Moment | The prime minister is enjoying a rare moment on the up, buoyed by international support for her stand against Russia, just as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is struggling with accusations of anti-Semitism – and of siding with Russia over the spy poisoning, write Robert Hutton and Thomas Penny.

End of the Boom | House prices across the capital will start falling by mid-year, according to research company Hometrack, with Brexit and changes in the tax regime to blame. Broker Savills Plc says values are already dropping at the fastest pace since the depths of the recession.

Satellite Fight | The EU confirmed it’s looking at how to adjust its Galileo satellite program once Britain is outside the bloc. It’s a blow to May, who wants close cooperation to continue – and wants U.K. companies to keep their access. She said on Monday the U.K. expects to be treated fairly over Galileo contracts and that it’s in the EU’s interests for Britain to remain in the project.

More Watchdogs | The European Central Bank said it will add about 70 staff at its banking supervision arm this year in anticipation of a higher workload as banks move from the U.K. to the euro area in preparation for Brexit. Meanwhile, more banks are making decisions on their Brexit plans and starting to relocate, according to the head of the ECB’s supervisory board.

Davis’s Loss | The Brexit department has lost one of its key officials – the man tasked with finding a solution for the Irish border, the Guardian reports. He’s leaving after three months in the job to become Prince William’s private secretary.

Selmayrgate | European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger will face a grilling on Tuesday about Martin Selmayr’s rapid ascent up the Brussels hierarchy. Selmayr has developed a reputation as Jean-Claude Juncker's all powerful right-hand man, but he’s also the person accused of leaking damaging details about May’s meetings with his boss. At the summit last week, Juncker was forced to defend him.

Ireland’s Aim | The Irish border issue could force the U.K. to come up with a new plan for its overall future relationship with the EU, said Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney. It is “of course about solving the Irish problem, but is also a mechanism to require the British negotiating team to think about alternative proposals that could potentially apply to the EU’s relationship with the U.K. as a whole.”

And Finally...

Britain will need tougher rules to safeguard against invasive plants and animals after Brexit, conservation experts have warned, according to the Guardian.

Japanese knotweed and New Zealand flatworms are cited as threats. The risk is that new trade arrangements from further afield will bring new invasions, while existing safeguards could be at risk.

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