Anti-Brexit Group Wins Challenge Against `Vote Leave' Spending

(Bloomberg) -- An anti-Brexit organization won the right to challenge the campaign spending by pro-exit group ‘Vote Leave’ in the run up to the U.K.’s referendum on European Union membership.

Judges George Leggatt and David Holgate granted permission Friday for a judicial review proceeding against the Electoral Commission and Vote Leave will determine whether Brexit-supporting organization spent more on its campaign than is permitted by U.K. rules.

“We are satisfied” that Good Law “does raise arguable points of statutory construction which should be resolved,” the judges said in the ruling.

Spending by designated campaign groups during a referendum is capped at 7 million pounds ($9.9 million) in the U.K. under Electoral Commission rules. The Good Law Project, which brought the claims, claimed that Vote Leave was in breach of those rules by donating money to other pro-Brexit groups for the same campaign purposes. The court will have to decide whether Vote Leave’s donations should have qualified as an “expense incurred,” which would push it over the spending limit.

“A key reason behind the challenge relates to the future and in particular, ensuring that any future referendum is properly regulated,” the Good Law Project said in its court filing. Vote Leave officials didn’t immediate answer an email query about the decision.

Although the group won on its ground that expenses incurred by Vote Leave should be reviewed, it lost on three other issues -- including claims that the commission failed to carry out its duty in supervising the referendum and investigating spending breaches. The Electoral Commission opened an investigation into Vote Leave spending in November 20, 2017, which is ongoing.

The ruling is a victory for Jolyon Maugham, founder of the Good Law Project and a prominent lawyer campaigning against Brexit.

The hearing on the matter will be heard no later than mid-July, ahead of any final Brexit withdrawal deal. The review comes as Prime Minister Theresa May tries to appease battling factions of her own ruling Conservative Party over leaving the EU, while negotiating with European leaders on the terms of departure. Meanwhile, a group of politicians and activists are working to win a second referendum on the issue, in the hopes of blocking a clean break.

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