Greens “disappointed” at Leave.EU electoral spending rules decision

The Metropolitan Police has announced that it will not be pursuing further criminal investigations into Leave.EU’s Brexit referendum spending after the Electoral Commission fined the campaign group £70,000 for exceeding spending limits, provoking a disappointed response from Green Party politicians.

Leave.EU under the microscope
Leave.EU under the microscope

Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0) (Original image)

Green World

Green Party politicians have expressed their disappointment at the news that the Metropolitan Police will not be pursuing further criminal investigation into Brexit campaign group Leave.EU over its spending during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Leave.EU, founded by businessman Aaron Banks and fronted by Nigel Farage, had been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission in May 2018 for breaches of electoral campaign spending limits.

The campaign group was found to have exceeded the spending limit for ‘non-party registered campaigners’ by at least 10 per cent after the Electoral Commission found Leave.EU Chief Executive Liz Bilney had left out £77,380 in the group’s spending return following the referendum campaign.

In response, a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “"It is right that regulatory and enforcement authorities fully investigate concerns about potential breaches of the law. We believed there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Ms Bilney had committed the offence of knowingly or recklessly making a false declaration about the Leave.EU spending return. This warranted thorough investigation and we therefore notified the police. 

"As the Metropolitan Police note, this does not alter the findings of the Commission’s investigation from May last year, which found Ms Bilney to have committed four offences, including of submitting an inaccurate spending return and of exceeding the spending limit. Leave.EU appealed these findings, but the Commission’s position was upheld in court."

While the Met Police’s investigation has been dropped, that of the National Crime Agency is still ongoing, with the outcome set to be released soon. 

The decision by the Met Police has been met with disappointment by Green politicians, who have been vocal in their denunciation of the way the Leave campaign acted during the Brexit referendum campaign. Caroline Lucas MP said: “The decision by the police not to take this matter any further doesn’t alter the fact that Leave.EU broke the law, as demonstrated by the findings of the Electoral Commission.    

“When politicians break the law to get the result they want – in this case, taking the UK out of the European Union – it undermines one of the pillars of our democracy which is that elections must be fair in order for them to be legitimate. That is why we have electoral spending limits. 

“I’m disappointed that the police think there isn’t enough evidence to take this further, but I expect them to continue to investigate other individuals who also broke electoral law according to the Electoral Commission.” 

Molly Scott Cato MEP for South West England, and finance and Brexit speaker for the Green Party said: “It is disappointing to see the Metropolitan Police dismiss the four spending offences committed by Leave.EU and upheld in court as ‘technical breaches’. That a prosecution cannot reach the criminal standard of proof does nothing to undermine the fact that the EU referendum campaign was not run to the highest democratic standards that one would expect of a decision with such widespread consequence, and that the mandate for Brexit is therefore invalidated.”