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14th September 2018, 20:12

High Court rules Electoral Commission 'misinterpreted' Vote Leave spending rules

The UK Electoral Commission has misinterpreted the law relating to referendum expenses in the case of the Vote Leave campaign, the High Court has ruled today. This follows a challenge from the Good Law Project, a pressure group that aims to hold the UK Government to account in areas including Brexit. Founder Jolyon Maugham QC brought the case to the courts after the Electoral Commission’s decision to allow Vote Leave to donate over six-hundred thousand pounds to the pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave, without having to account for this expenditure.

And the European Research Group led by hard-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has been told to stop using tax payer money for party political purposes.

The High Court judgement said the UK Electoral Commission’s interpretation of the law

was a “recipe for abuse of the spending restrictions” adding, the source of its error is a mistaken assumption that an individual or body which makes a donation to a permitted participant, cannot thereby incur referendum expenses.

Following the ruling, Jo Maugham took to twitter saying “What’s now clear is that the referendum was won on points by a crooked fighter with the help of a hapless umpire”.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission has told the UK press that it welcomed the court’s judgement highlighting that it had arrived at the same conclusion as the Commission did in its investigation.

For its part, Vote Leave said it had sought the Commission’s advice before the payment was made, adding, it would not have transferred the moneyto BeLeave had it not been advised by the Commission that it could. The official pro-Brexit group was fined sixty-one thousand pounds in July for exceeding its seven-million pound spending limit, while BeLeave founder, Darren Grimes, was fined twenty thousand pounds.

Vote Leave’s Chief Executive says the Commission should now reconsider those fines.

Elsewhere, a Parliamentary watchdog has asked the European Research Group, driven by hard-Brexit Tory MPs, to stop using taxpayers’ money for party political purposes.

The ERG has received hundreds of thousands of pounds through MPs’ expenses to provide a “pooled service” of research activities. However, any use of the money for party political purposes is in breach of the rules.

However, complaints made to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority include accusations it “crossed the line” with attacks on the Labour Party.

In response, the ERG says it operates a second bank account for private donations in addition to the one that receives public money, adding the Group complies with Ipsa rules.