- Vote Leave gave £625,000 to Darren Grimes shortly before the EU referendum.
- The Electoral Commission is investigating whether that broke rules.
- Both Grimes and Vote Leave are being looked at by electoral law officials.
- The donation falls into a grey area on the fringes of UK law.
- A previous probe found nothing, but has been re-opened in light of “new information.”
Britain’s election watchdog has re-opened an investigation into a controversial donation made by the Vote Leave campaign group during the final days of the Brexit referendum campaign.
The Electoral Commission announced on Monday that it was probing whether a £625,000 ($827,000) gift to Darren Grimes, a 24-year-old fashion student, was in breach of strict election regulations.
It is also investigating Vote Leave directly over claims that it breached the maximum spending limit during the referendum period.
This is the second time the donation is being investigated. In a press release on Monday, the commission said it had decided to investigate again.
- Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Explaining the decision, it said: “New information has come to light which, when considered alongside the information obtained previously, has given the Commission reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed.”
UK electoral law stipulates strict limits for how much campaigners can spend in the run-up to an election.
Vote Leave – the official pro-Brexit campaign – was allowed to spend £7 million (as was its opponent, Britain Stronger in Europe). All other campaigners were capped at £700,000 each.
Campaigners with more money in their coffers, such as Vote Leave, were legally allowed to give it away to sympathetic groups, so long as they don’t dictate how it was spent in the process, which is known as a “common plan.”
Grimes spent the money on a Facebook ad campaign delivered by AggregateIQ, a Canadian data firm credited with “a great deal” of Vote Leave’s success, according to HuffPost Canada.
But the latest statement appears to open all the questions again. It includes probes into whether (in the Electoral Commission’s words):
- Mr Grimes may have delivered a return that was incorrect in relation to a donation he received from Vote Leave and related campaign spending;
- Vote Leave delivered a return that was incorrect in relation to campaign spending;
- Vote Leave exceeded its spending limit in the referendum.
The commission is also investigating donations to the group Veterans for Britain on similar grounds.