Vote Leave accused of using Facebook ads to breach Brexit campaign pause after Jo Cox murder

Posted On: 
27th July 2018

The official Brexit campaign has been condemned after new files suggested it broke an EU referendum ceasefire after Jo Cox was murdered.

Boris Johnson with Gisela Stuart during the referendum campaign.
PA Images

Vote Leave pumped out targeted Facebook adverts between the 17 and 19 June despite both sides in the Brexit campaign agreeing to a pause in the campaign, according to documents released by the social media giant.

Britain was stunned when the Labour MP was brutally shot and stabbed to death by white supremacist Thomas Mair just a week before the referendum.

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Vote Leave and its pro-EU rival Stronger In paused activity for three days out of respect for the hugely-respected politician, but new evidence suggests the pro-Brexit side broke the pact.

On 17 June it ran 23 Facebook adverts reaching more than 4 million voters who were identified as susceptible to its messaging, while on 18 June it sent 26 adverts and on 19 June it sent three.

They included calls to adopt an Australian-style points system for post-Brexit immigration and a claim EU rules block Britain from protecting polar bears.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said it would be “thoroughly depressing and very, very sad” if Vote Leave had continued its Facebook onslaught during the campaign pause.

And he issued a warning to the former Vote Leave top brass, saying: “If true, I sincerely hope Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart did not politically approve this behaviour.”



Meanwhile, fellow pro-Brexit campaign group BeLeave also sent out targeted Facebook ads on the 17 June which reached tens of thousands of people on the social network, the files suggest.

Vote Leave has come under sustained fire in recent weeks after the Electoral Commission fined it more than £60,000 for breaching the spending cap during the referendum campaign.

Today the targeted Facebook adverts it spent more than £2.7m pumping out to specific users in its successful bid to win the 2016 vote were revealed.

Vote Leave used Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ to develop the ads and send them out to the millions of users who would be most susceptible to their messaging.

Many of them do not contain any details about who created and sent them. Political parties do not have to include such details in online advertising by law, but they do for posted leaflets.

BeLeave was also fined £20,000 for failing to register itself properly and for taking cash from Vote Leave then using it for a ‘common purpose’ - also pumping money into AIQ advertising.

The ads were released by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is investigating the campaigns as part of its inquiry into fake news.

Mr Johnson and Mr Gove have been contacted for comment.