Darren Jones MP tells Jamie East: 'Punishment for Vote Leave isn't strong enough'

Darren Jones MP tells Jamie East: 'Punishment for Vote Leave isn't strong enough'

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Labour’s Darren Jones has called for a public inquiry after Vote Leave was fined for breaking electoral law.

The official Brexit campaign was slapped with a £61,000 fine for overspending, but Jones said it doesn’t go far enough.

“I was outraged, but not surprised, because we’d heard already how the Electoral Commission was concerned with the Leave campaign was moving money between different entities,” he told Jamie East.

“My concern, and I raised this in Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday, is that it’s ‘OK, you broke the law, so what?’ The punishment isn’t strong enough, it’s something you can just pay for and get on with your day-to-day lives.

“That’s why I’ve called for a public inquiry so we can learn what to fix for the future.”

‘Foul play’

Labour’s Chuka Umunna called an urgent question in the House of Commons today, prompting a series of differing views from ministers.

He also supported the calls for an inquiry. “Given there was a 4% gap between Leave and Remain, and Vote Leave overspent by just under 8%, does the minister agree with me that we cannot say with confidence that this foul play did not impact on the result?" he asked.

Read more: Lord Adonis predicts a 'people's vote' on Brexit policy 

Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, criticised electoral laws for not being “fit for purpose in the digital age”.

“The Electoral Commission is suggesting that all electronic campaigning have digital imprint requirements, including information on who paid for the campaigning, so it’s obvious at a glance, who has sponsored and who has paid for that campaigning material, thereby bringing all online adverts into line with physical leaflets and adverts,” he said.

"In our forthcoming interim report on fake news we will be considering what recommendations we can make that would strengthen the powers of bodies such as the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner's Office to ensure we can combat fake news and disinformation in public discourse."

‘Re-run the referendum’

Conservative former minister Sir Nicholas Soames called for the electoral system to be "blown up and started all over again".

He said: "One of the great glories of this sadly now-diminished country was our electoral and democratic system, and this example today is gross.

“If we are to retain the integrity and the trust of the voting public, the whole damn thing needs to be blown up and started all over again."

Tory Sarah Wollaston called for the referendum to be “re-run”, saying: “Consequences must

follow, we cannot have confidence that this referendum was secure and it should be re-run."

‘Ridiculous’ to say referendum result was affected

But Leave-supporting Labour MP Kate Hoey told the BBC’s The World at One: "If you're really telling me that you think the decision of the British people would have been different if that amount of money had not been spent then I just think that's ridiculous."

Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who was affiliated with the BeLeave campaign, went public with allegations of overspending earlier this year.

BeLeave paid money to Aggregate IQ, a Canadian digital marketing company, using donations from Vote Leave.

Vote Leave says findings ‘false’

The Electoral Commission ruled that youth group BeLeave, founded by student Darren Grimes, was working in conjunction with Vote Leave, which breached its spending limit as a result.

Mr Sanni said Mr Grimes was a "victim" who had been a pawn of "some of the most intelligent people in Westminster who have used him to win a referendum based on breaking the law".

Vote Leave denied the findings, saying the report “contains a number of false accusations” and criticised the Commission for not interviewing anyone from Vote Leave.

"We will consider the options available to us, but are confident that these findings will be overturned,” a spokesman said.