A group of 74 MPs, peers and MEPs from all major UK political parties has penned a letter to the National Crime Agency demanding it begins a criminal investigation into the actions of Brexit campaign group Vote Leave.
Vote Leave was the official group in favour of leaving the European Union during the referendum campaign and involved Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, DUP and UKIP politicians, including prominent members of the Cabinet such as Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Dominic Raab.
Since the EU referendum result was announced, Vote Leave has been dogged by accusations of illegal activity relating to its spending during the campaign. In July, the Electoral Commission, the UK’s elections watchdog, said it had ‘substantial evidence’ that Vote Leave had spent more than the legal limit for campaigning, after the group was found to have donated more than £650,000 to a second leave campaign group, BeLeave, without declaring this as campaign expenditure. This money then went to a digital data company, Aggregate IQ, which both groups had used, meaning it counted towards Vote Leave’s overall campaign spending.
Vote Leave was fined by the Electoral Commission, but in September, the UK High Court ruled that because the Commission had initially deemed the donation permissible, it had ‘misinterpreted’ campaign spending law, ultimately enabling Vote Leave to break that law.
Vote Leave’s Chief Executive, Matthew Elliott, said this ruling should exonerate Vote Leave as it proved the Commission had allowed the donation to go ahead. However, the Commission maintains that fault lies with Vote Leave, as the group failed to properly declare their donation.
In July, Green politicians called for a wider criminal investigation into the actions of Vote Leave, as well as the resignation of all government ministers involved in the campaign group. Now, this call has been taken up by a group of 74 parliamentarians from all the major UK parties, including Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, Labour’s Lord Adonis, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Conservative MEP Charles Tannock.
Investigation ‘should be carried out urgently and with no hint of political bias’
Coordinated by Molly Scott-Cato, Green MEP, and Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw, the group has written to the Director of Intelligence at the National Crime Agency, Steve Smart, and the Commander of Specialist Crime at the Metropolitan Police, Stuart Cundy, asking that they proceed with a full criminal investigation into the actions of Vote Leave.
The group notes concerns that the ‘political sensitivity of the case’ could be holding it back, asking whether investigators have been ‘approached by government representatives to suggest that you soft-pedal this investigation’.
Scott Cato previously launched a website called ‘The Brexit Syndicate’ to shine a light on the wealthy international organisations working behind the scenes of Brexit. Commenting on the publication of the letter, she said: “Legal impunity for politicians is what we expect from a banana republic, not a modern democracy. With several cabinet ministers having been on the Vote Leave campaign committee, this is clearly a politically sensitive inquiry. But all the more important that it should be carried out urgently and with no hint of political bias.
“The voting public needs reassurance that those who break the law will face justice. But this is more than just prosecuting illegal activity, it is necessary to reassure citizens that nobody is above the law and that our legal framework protects our democracy.”
Bradshaw added: “Protecting our democracy and electoral system from illegal activity is a vital responsibility of our law enforcement agencies. It is extremely important that the police and the NCA take their duties seriously and do not allow the fear of political controversy or, worse still, political interference to deter them in that work.”
You can read the letter and the full list of 74 signatories on Molly Scott Cato’s website.