The elections watchdog is accusing Vote Leave of four counts of election fraud, according to the campaign’s director, who look the unusual step of releasing a draft report of the investigation ahead of its official release.
The BBC reported late on Tuesday that the Commission’s draft findings had concluded that Vote Leave broke spending limits and failed to comply with rules.
The Commission is yet to release its full findings, but said on Wednesday that Vote Leave had taken the “unusual step” of leaking the draft report and “sharing its views” on it with the BBC.
According to the BBC, the report has found Vote Leave had:
- made an inaccurate return of campaign expenditure
- is missing invoices and receipts
- failed to comply with a statutory notice
- exceeded its spending limit.
The Commission said that it gave Vote Leave its initial findings and 28 days to make “any further or new representations”. That period ended on Tuesday.
The leak, the Commission said, “does not affect” when it will release its findings which will occur at the “earliest opportunity”.
Whistleblowers Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni, who accused the Vote Leave campaign of cheating, said robust action should be taken and the matter referred to police if laws are found to have been broken.
Sanni, a former Vote Leave volunteer, added: “We must ask why Cabinet ministers denied anything was wrong, and why Number 10 sought to discredit the evidence that was brought forward.
“We must question why we are putting the law second and party politics first. I’m waiting for the report, but just for clarity, I told you so.”
Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who played a leading role in the Vote Leave campaign, on Wednesday suggested the commission’s findings would be challenged in court.
The Environment Secretary said he had not read the election watchdog’s initial report but said Vote Leave’s former chief executive Matthew Elliott had made clear he “vigorously contests” the conclusions.
Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The report itself, I think, is going to be challenged legally.
“If it’s going to be challenged legally, if it is going to go through the courts, it would be inappropriate for me – not having read the report – to offer a commentary on it.”
Elliott is said to have submitted a 500-page dossier to the Electoral Commission rebutting the claims made in its initial findings.
The BBC suggested the draft report claims there was coordination between Vote Leave and a smaller campaign, BeLeave, which received a donation of more than £600,000 in the closing weeks of the referendum, after advice from the Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings.
Allegations that the two campaigns broke Electoral Commission rules by working together too closely have been circulating for several months.
Vote Leave and BeLeave have both denied the claims.
However, the BBC reports that Vote Leave has now admitted there was email correspondence between the donor in question, Anthony Clake, and Cummings about passing the donation onto BeLeave.
Elliott told the corporation that the commission had “listened to one side of the story” and had not taken Vote Leave up on an invitation to be interviewed.
He further said the campaign had “acted both within the letter of the law and also the spirit of the law”, and that it was perfectly legitimate that they would “work alongside other groups and encourage them and encourage their activities”.