Pat McFadden's letters to police and Electoral Commission on Vote Leave

Posted On: 
17th February 2016

Labour MP Pat McFadden's letters to the police and Electoral Commission about Vote Leave.

Pat McFadden


Click
HEREfor the context on these letters. 

LETTER TO THE POLICE

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has come to my attention that Vote Leave Limited, an organisation that has registered to participate in the EU referendum, may breach the law with respect to spending rules.

Steve Baker, who is on the Parliamentary Planning Committee of Vote Leave Limited, and Co-Chairmen of Conservatives for Britain[i], has outlined how the “Vote Leave family” will intend to avoid the spending limits imposed on campaigns:

“It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum,”

Steve Baker MP, The Times, 17 Feb 2016,
link

It is clear from the guidance the Electoral Commission provided for the Scottish Referendum that this would breach the rules which state how co-ordinated plans should count against the “designated campaign.”        


Working together with other campaigners

Campaigners can work together if they wish to do so.
Some combined spending will count towards the limits for each campaigner involved. This is to stop people getting around the spending limits by coordinating several campaigns at the same time.

However, combined spending will not count towards the limits for campaigners working with a designated lead campaign group,
other than towards the limit of the lead campaign group itself.

What we mean by ‘working together’

‘Working together’ means spending money as a
result of an agreed plan or arrangementbetween one or more campaigners during the referendum period.

The guiding principle

This will help you to decide whether you and another campaigner are spending money as part of working together. The guiding principle is that, in all cases, you should make an honest assessment, based on the facts,
whether you or another campaigner are spending money as part of a common plan or arrangement.

Electoral Commission, Referendum on independence for Scotland 2014, Overview of referendum spending,
link

This guidance on the Scottish Referendum was provided in line with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), which are also the basis for the upcoming European Union referendum:

Both Governments agreed that the principles underpinning the existing framework for referendums held in the UK should apply to the Scottish Independence Referendum. In particular, that Part 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) should provide the framework for the referendum, including the rules about campaign finance and regulation.

Electoral Commission, Scottish Independence Referendum, Report on the referendum held on 18 September 2014,
link

It seems clear, therefore, that if the spending guidelines for the EU referendum follow the same rules as those for the Scottish referend, Vote Leave may be in breach of the rules.

I urge you to urgently investigate whether Vote Leave’s clear plan to “create separate legal entities” would amount to a plan to work together with other campaigners in a way that contravenes the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Since Vote Leave’s actions may constitute a breach of the law, I believe this is a matter of public importance and interest and so I hope it will be treated as a matter of priority.

Yours sincerely,

Pat McFadden MP

LETTER TO THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION

Chair of the Electoral Commission,

3 Bunhill Row

London

EC1Y 8YZ

17 February 2016

Dear Jenny Watson,

It has come to my attention that Vote Leave Limited, an organisation that has registered to participate in the EU referendum and is planning on applying to be the “designated organisation”, may breach the rules around campaign spending and would urge you to investigate.

Steve Baker, who is on the Parliamentary Planning Committee of Vote Leave Limited, and Co-Chairmen of Conservatives for Britain,[i] has outlined how the “Vote Leave family” will intend to avoid the spending limits imposed on campaigns:

“It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum,”

Steve Baker MP, The Times, 17 Feb 2016,
link

Steve Baker has also highlighted how Vote Leave Limited will be applying for the “designated campaign”:

“Well we would like to have Vote, I would like, we would like to have Vote Leave to be the designated campaign. 

Steve Baker MP, Sky News, 31 Jan 2016,
link

It is clear from the guidance the Electoral Commission provided for the Scottish Referendum that this would breach the rules which state how co-ordinated plans should count against the “designated campaign.”        

“Working together with other campaigners

Campaigners can work together if they wish to do so.
Some combined spending will count towards the limits for each campaigner involved. This is to stop people getting around the spending limits by coordinating several campaigns at the same time.

However, combined spending will not count towards the limits for campaigners working with a designated lead campaign group,
other than towards the limit of the lead campaign group itself.

 

What we mean by ‘working together’

‘Working together’ means spending money as a
result of an agreed plan or arrangementbetween one or more campaigners during the referendum period.

The guiding principle

This will help you to decide whether you and another campaigner are spending money as part of working together. The guiding principle is that, in all cases, you should make an honest assessment, based on the facts,
whether you or another campaigner are spending money as part of a common plan or arrangement.

Electoral Commission, Referendum on independence for Scotland 2014, Overview of referendum spending,
link

Whilst the Electoral Commission is still yet to award the designation, even if Vote Leave Limited are not awarded “designated campaign” status (and I would ask the Electoral Commission to consider this information when making its decision) as a registered participant I understand it would still constitute a breach of the rules:

Working together with other campaigners and not with a designated lead campaign group

If campaigners work together as part of an agreed plan or arrangement, the combined referendum spending will count towards the limits for each campaigner involved

Electoral Commission, Referendum on independence for Scotland 2014, Overview of referendum spending,
link

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act “gives the Commission the role of monitoring compliance, and taking steps to secure compliance with the rules on election expenses”.[ii] It is also clear that the Electoral Commission has the ability to instigate an investigation under these circumstances:

Investigatory activity may be instigated for a number of reasons, for example where a statutory report is not submitted, or where a submitted report indicates a potential breach of the law. Other circumstances which may lead to an investigation include where an allegation is made to the Commission that the law has been broken or where the Commission becomes aware of a potential problem through another route, such as a press report.

Electoral Commission, Enforcement Policy, Dec 2010,
link

I urge you to urgently investigate whether Vote Leave’s clear plan to “create separate legal entities” would amount to a plan to work together with other campaigners in a way that contravenes the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

I would also ask that you clarify whether any “separate legal entities” set up by designated campaigners could count against their spending limits, and whether the intention to behave otherwise would contravene Electoral Commission guidelines on spending, as well as the Commission’s decision on who is granted the final designation.

Since Vote Leave’s actions may constitute a breach of the law, I believe this is a matter of public importance and interest and so I hope it will be treated as a matter of priority.

Yours sincerely,

Pat McFadden MP