Electoral Commission dismisses Brexiteer Priti Patel's complaints over official Remain campaign
Britain's elections watchdog has dismissed allegations from Priti Patel about the official Remain campaign's spending - and pushed back at claims of bias from the Brexiteer Tory MP.
The Electoral Commission said that they had failed to find sufficient evidence to open an investigation into the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign after the ex-Cabinet minister and prominent eurosceptic reported them for breaching campaign spending limits.
The watchdog also said it was "disappointed" by claims from the MP that it is biased against those in favour of leaving the EU.
The former Cabinet minister had claimed there was evidence that smaller campaigns had acted as a "mere continuity" to the official campaign having "shared advertising agencies, promoted each other’s adverts and exhibited no clear difference in their messaging".
In a letter to the Commission, she said: "I am sure you share my deep concerns that Britain Stronger in Europe seems to have [been] provided with services by other remain campaigns without declaring the expenditure in the appropriate way."
Her central complaint focussed on a video called 'Don’t F*** My Future', which featured a host of celebrities, including Keira Knightley, encouraging younger voters to turn out to vote.
In a dossier handed to the Electoral Commission, the staunch Brexiteer alleged that the video had been hosted by multiple Remain campaign groups, but that only one invoice for less than half of the £76,000 production cost had been declared as spending.
She said that the "egregious" example went further than any accusation made about the Leave campaign, adding that it provided “demonstrable evidence that Remain campaigns colluded in producing adverts with a ‘common plan’.”
But the watchdog confirmed today that it would not be making further inquiries into the Britain Stronger in Europe over the allegations, after it failed to find evidence that the group had breached campaign spending rules.
"After a thorough assessment, our conclusion is that we can find nothing beyond conjecture to support the argument that there must be undeclared joint spending between these various campaigners," head of regulation Louise Edwards said in a letter to Ms Patel.
"There is nothing we can point to that reasonably indicates some kind of common campaign activity."
The Electoral Commission chief also expressed her "disappointment" at Ms Patel's "continued suggestion that the Commission’s impartiality has been compromised in respect of how we regulate EU referendum campaigns".
She said: "I appreciate your support for the Commission’s role and independence and believe the best way for us to maintain our independence is to continue our evidence-led approach.
"It would be wrong for us to take decisions on the basis that we must balance action in respect of ‘leave’ campaigners with action in respect of ‘remain’ campaigners. That would undermine our neutrality, rather than ensure it."
However, the watchdog did confirm that an investigation had been opened into one of the smaller campaign groups that Ms Patel had provided evidence on.
That probe will examine whether ‘Wake up and Vote’ incurred joint spending with the campaign ad’s producer which was not declared.
The decision comes after the official Vote.Leave campaign group was hit with a £70,000 fine after it was found to have breached electoral spending laws.
A Vote Leave spokesperson hit out at the fresh findings, and repeated claims that the independent watchdog of favouring Remain campaigners.
"The Commission claims there is insufficient evidence to investigate the allegations put forward by Priti Patel, yet it appears the Commission has not even bothered to ask basic questions of the Remain campaigns in question.
"This is in stark contrast to the Commission’s actions on the Leave side, where flimsier allegations were enough for the Commission to open up multiple inquiries, and subject Leave campaigns to a multi-year onslaught, ending in findings that Vote Leave confidently expects to be dismissed when we appeal."