Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules

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(Bloomberg) -- Campaigners for Brexit may have conspired to break spending limits in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, according to allegations by a whistle-blower who worked for one of the Leave groups.

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. The lawyer are acting on behalf of people who flagged potential violations in the campaign.

If that 625,000-pound ($889,000) donation had been included in Vote Leave’s accounts, it would have taken the group over its 7 million-pound spending limit.

“It’s important that it’s the will of the people and not the bought will of the people that is expressed at the ballot box,” Tamsin Allen told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon in London. Allen is a lawyer for Shahmir Sanni, a BeLeave campaigner who argues the rules were broken. She declined to say who paid her costs but said funds from the original donors had run out.

Darren Grimes, who ran BeLeave, declined to comment. Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, said on his blog on Saturday: “Vote Leave’s donations were legal, the Electoral Commission gave us written permission, the whistle-blowers are provably lying, we leave in a year and this lame gossip won’t even be a historical footnote.”

The Electoral Commission said it has an ongoing investigation into Vote Leave’s spending, and declined to comment further. It can refer violators for prosecution but can’t change the outcome of the vote or order a new referendum.

Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, said the data-mining company that helped organize the campaigns for the Leave campaign paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to a related firm, Aggregate IQ Data Services.

“Can we trust a result where it’s highly likely that overspending happened? British democracy is about listening to the voice of the people not about how much money you spend,” Wylie told reporters. “Brexit, we can’t come back from that, it’s an irreversible decision. So for me I think it’s important that if we’re going to irreversibly change the constitutional settlement of this country, we should be confident that that’s on a genuinely democratic basis.’

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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