U.K.'s Brexit Campaign Loses Bid to Sue Elections Watchdog

(Bloomberg) -- As the U.K. Parliament braces for Tuesday’s historic Brexit vote, a very different battle over the EU referendum was being fought in a courtroom just over a mile across town.

Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign from the 2016 poll, lost a bid to sue the Electoral Commission, which said in a July report that the group broke electoral law. The commission fined Vote Leave and referred the issue to the Metropolitan Police.

Vote Leave wanted to challenge the watchdog’s decision to publish the July report, saying it published it and “embarked on publicity” about it without permission, its court filings say. Judge Jonathan Swift said in court Tuesday that he was refusing Vote Leave’s application for permission to bring the case.

The group denies wrongdoing in relation to the watchdog’s findings, and is continuing with a separate appeal against its report, a Vote Leave spokesman said outside court. “We regret” Tuesday’s verdict but “the majority of the things we’re complaining about here will be able to be brought into that appeal,” he said.

“Having previously questioned our right to carry out an investigation, Vote Leave is now arguing that we had no right to issue a public report into our findings,” a spokeswoman for the regulator said ahead of the hearing. “It is vital, not only that we have the freedom to investigate breaches, but that we operate in a transparent fashion and share the findings of our investigations publicly.”

The case centers on a report into what the watchdog describes as a “common plan” between Vote Leave and BeLeave, another pro-Brexit group. BeLeave spent more than 675,000 pounds ($868,000) on work from data firm Aggregate IQ, the Electoral Commission said, helping push Vote Leave over the 7 million-pound spending cap for the vote.

Darren Grimes, BeLeave’s founder, said his group denied any wrongdoing.

The Electoral Commission has separately been criticized for its dealings with the campaign. It misinterpreted EU referendum spending rules when considering payments made by the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum, a London court ruled in September.

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