POLITICS
11/06/2018 12:17 BST | Updated 11/06/2018 15:08 BST

Downing Street Accused Of Forcing Through Brexit Votes Before Leave Campaign Investigation Is Published

'Each day the plot thickens about the murky dealings of the various Brexit campaigns' says Labour's Tom Watson

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Downing Street has been accused of pushing through key Brexit votes before MPs know the result of an investigation into whether Vote Leave broke the law during the EU Referendum. 

The official Brexit campaign is being investigated by the Electoral Commission into whether it broke spending limits ahead of the 2016 referendum.

The investigation was launched in November, and the Electoral Commission has now presented its findings to those under investigation. They have 28 days to provide a response to the conclusion before the report is made public.

Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson is questioning if the votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill – planned for Tuesday and Wednesday – are being rushed through before MPs have the chance to consider the results of the investigation.

Two of Theresa May’s close advisors - Stephen Parkinson and Cleo Watson - worked in high-ranking positions within Vote Leave, and the Labour MP believes they would have had advance sight of investigation’s findings.

Watson said: “Each day the plot thickens about the murky dealings of the various Brexit campaigns.

“Now it seems senior figures at the heart of Number 10 who were involved in Vote Leave could have been informed about the contents of this important Electoral Commission investigation long before anyone else.

“If that’s true Number 10 would have had time to plan and even ensure key Brexit votes like the ones this week could happen before the investigation findings are published. That might explain why the Government were pushing so hard to get the Withdrawal bill through in one day tomorrow.

“You’ve got to question whether that’s appropriate and whether those people under investigation should really still be shaping and taking decisions at the heart of Government.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “This is categorically untrue.”

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Vote Leave was the official Brexit campaign fronted by Boris Johnson.

The investigation centres around payments made by Vote Leave to clear debts of £625,000 run up by university student Darren Grimes with the digital campaign company AggregateIQ Data.

Grimes - who ran the BeLeave group - was allowed by electoral law to spend £700,000 in the campaign.

As the official campaign group, Vote Leave could spend £7million, and if it had commissioned and spent that £625,000 itself it would have breached the spending limits.

The Electoral Commission initially accepted the Vote Leave argument that it had donated the money to Grimes, despite settling the bill with AggregateIQ directly.

A separate group, Veterans for Britain, also received £100,000 from Vote Leave.

But in November it reopened its investigation, claiming new information had come to light. 

Downing Street is drawn into the investigation as Stephen Parkinson - the PM’s Political Secretary - was National Organiser for Vote Leave during the referendum campaign.

He is accused by former Vote Leave volunteer Shahmir Sanni of directing how BeLeave should spend money - something which would be a breach of electoral law.

In March, Parkinson revealed he and Sanni had been in a relationship as part of his denial, prompting Sanni to claim his family in Pakistan - who did not know he was gay - were forced to take “urgent protective measures” for their own safety.  

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: :The Commission has concluded its investigation announced on 20 November 2017, into Vote Leave and other campaigners.

“The Commission has written to those being investigated to advise them of the initial findings. In accordance with statute they have 28 days to make further representations before final decisions are taken.

The Commission will then announce the outcome of the investigation and publish an investigation report.”