Leave.EU just got fined £70,000 for breaching election law during the 2016 referendum campaign. So is 'hard Brexit' finally dead?
This morning’s announcement that the Electoral Commission would be fining Arron Banks’ Leave.EU campaign £70,000 for undeclared spending came as little surprise.
The group had been under investigation since April last year, after having failed to mention its collaboration with now-disgraced data firm Cambridge Analytica.
Leave.EU was not part of the official pro-Brexit campaign Vote Leave, but came to prominence given its frontman being no other than then UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The Electoral Commission found the group guilty of failing to report “at least” £77,380 in campaign spending – 10% over the spending limit enforced by the watchdog. Its chief executive, Liz Bilney, was also referred to the police by the Commission for “serious offences.”
We have fined https://t.co/JFd2UeRquB £70,000 for offences committed under electoral law, following our investigation into the campaigner’s funding and spend during the EU referendum.
— Electoral Commission (@ElectoralCommUK) May 11, 2018
The relationship between Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica, however, was found to be inconsequential, as it had not developed “beyond initial scoping work”.
Previously the campaign had been criticised for retweeting Russia Today and the Russian Embassy, while speculation mounted that the Kremlin could have meddled with the referendum results.
How could it affect public opinion?
The rule could certainly affect the mood for a second referendum on the terms of the divorce, also known as the People’s Vote.
A survey published today by the People’s Vote campaign found that over half of voters support the second referendum. Just over were 30% opposed to having a final say on the Brexit deal.
Among Labour supporters the figures are even more pronounced, with 69% in favour and only 18% against the People’s Vote.
The Greens too are keen on pushing for the vote after hearing the Commission’s findings.
The party’s Brexit speaker, Molly Scott Cato MEP, said:
“The Electoral Commission’s report today adds to the mounting evidence of a Leave campaign that was mired in deception, manipulation and electoral fraud and it is clear the mandate for Brexit now lies dead.
“However, our Electoral Commission lacks the powers to declare the Brexit result invalid. The fact that our authorities lack teeth when incidences of electoral fraud take place needs addressing as a matter of urgency. But in the meantime, and in the interests of upholding democracy, the decision to leave the EU must now go back to the people. We need a People’s Vote, offering a final say on whether to proceed with Brexit and agree to the government’s deal, or remain a part of the EU.”
And even Tories are up for a final say, according to a poll conducted by BMG Research for Left Foot Forward published earlier this week. The survey found that a third of Conservatives would back a second vote.
With a heavily edited EU Withdrawal Bill coming back to the House of Commons as soon as May 23rd, we could be witnessing the final breaths of ‘hard Brexit’.
Ironically, it might have been Bank’s boorish Brexit campaign that delivered the final nail in that coffin.
Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. You can follow her on Twitter for all sorts of rants here.
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