NEWS
24/03/2018 19:59 GMT | Updated 24/03/2018 20:03 GMT

Vote Leave Accused Of 'Cheating' During Brexit Campaign

Shahmir Sanni says the EU Referendum 'wasn’t legitimate'.

A whistleblower has claimed that the official Brexit campaign “cheated” and that the result of the EU Referendum “wasn’t legitimate”.

Shahmir Sanni, who worked on the BeLeave campaign, said that Vote Leave used the separate group to get around strict spending limits set by the Electoral Commission.

Vote Leave has strongly denied wrongdoing and said the £625,000 donated to BeLeave was within the rules.

PA Archive/PA Images
Whistleblower claims Vote Leave 'cheated' during Brexit campaign.

Speaking to Channel 4 News on Saturday, Sanni said: “I know that, that Vote Leave cheated... I know that, that people have been lied to and that the Referendum wasn’t legitimate.

“Leaving the European Union, I agree with. But I don’t agree with losing what it means to be British in that process; losing what it means to follow the rules; losing what it means to be quite literally a functioning democracy.”

Sanni, who was in a relationship with senior Vote Leave figure Stephen Parkinson - now Theresa May’s political secretary - said he was “outed” as gay by the Number 10 aide in a row over the Brexit cheating claims.

Channel 4 News reports that Sanni went to the Electoral Commission with two other pro-Brexit friends on Thursday, who said they helped the Vote Leave campaign two years ago.

Their lawyers have given the election watchdog signed statements. 

The cheating row centres on the links between Vote Leave and third-party campaign group BeLeave.

Election laws allowed Vote Leave to spend a maximum of £7 million on its campaign, but separate campaign groups could each spend up to £700,000 if they registered as permitted participants.

Spending by these separate campaign groups had to remain independent of the main designated campaigns.

Sanni told Channel 4 News he was initially a Vote Leave outreach volunteer, but he claimed that Parkinson then assigned him to another Brexit group called BeLeave, where he worked with the group’s founder, Darren Grimes.

Vote Leave said it did not recall Sanni working as a volunteer, but he was “like hundreds of others who occasionally visited the offices”.

Sanni said that he and Grimes always reported to Parkinson.

“There was no time where anything BeLeave did didn’t go through Stephen,” Sanni said.

“Any sort of article that I posted or an article that I wrote, I would run it through Stephen. I would say ‘is this OK?’.

“This was after we had become a separate organisation - I sent Stephen a draft of my speech, and said ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I sought advice, as did Darren.”

In the final 10 days of the 2016 referendum campaign Vote Leave donated £625,000 to Grimes, who was registered as a permitted participant, with the money used to pay Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ), the programme said.

Asked whether they could have refused to spend the money on AIQ, Sanni said: “We didn’t ever feel like we had that level of control. 

“That’s what I mean, we never felt like we had control over the organisation itself.”

He claimed: “In effect they used BeLeave to over-spend, and not just by a small amount ... Almost two-thirds of a million pounds makes all the difference and it wasn’t legal.”

 

Parkinson said he was “saddened” by the “factually incorrect and misleading” statements by Sanni and his lawyers.

He added: “At the relevant time during the referendum period, the commission advised Vote Leave that it was permissible to make a donation in the way it proposed to do to BeLeave.

“Twice since the referendum the commission has investigated this matter, and twice it has found no evidence of wrongdoing. A third investigation into the same issue is currently taking place.

“The Electoral Commission has not contacted me in relation to any of these inquiries, but I will of course be happy to assist in them if they wish me to do so.

“I firmly deny the allegations in the programme.

“I had no responsibility for digital campaigning or donations on the Vote Leave campaign, and am confident that I stayed within the law and strict spending rules at all times.”

Grimes also denies all the allegations, Channel 4 said.

A Vote Leave spokesman said it had “twice been cleared on this matter by the Electoral Commission” adding: “There are now a number of new accusations and allegations.

“While many of them seem irrelevant or trivial, some are serious and potentially damaging to the reputations of those caught up in those allegations.

“As has been the case throughout, Vote Leave is obligated to review - to the extent it can after this long elapsed period since the referendum - all such allegations, and is doing so.

“We will as appropriate share any relevant findings with the Electoral Commission, again as we have always done.”

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: “The commission has a number of investigations open in relation to campaigners at the EU Referendum; it does not comment on live investigations. ”