Leave.EU breached spending but no evidence for further investigation – police

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

The Leave.EU campaign committed technical breaches of electoral law over its EU referendum spending return, but will face no further action, police have said.

Scotland Yard said on Friday that there was “insufficient evidence” to justify further criminal investigation into the pro-Brexit group founded by businessman Arron Banks and spearheaded by Nigel Farage.

The investigation was launched after the Electoral Commission referred the campaign to police over its spending during the 2016 referendum and fined it a record-equalling £70,000.

Insurance tycoon Arron Banks co-founded Leave.EU (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Farage celebrated the closure of the investigation stemming from what he called “endlessly appalling accusations”, while Leave.EU called for an inquiry into the watchdog.

The Metropolitan Police said: “It is clear that whilst some technical breaches of electoral law were committed by Leave.EU in respect of the spending return submitted for their campaign, there is insufficient evidence to justify any further criminal investigation.”

The decision to drop the case came after the Met handed a file to the CPS on August 5, while asking for advice on the investigation.

A National Crime Agency investigation into Mr Banks over “suspected criminal offences” relating to £8 million of campaign funding remains ongoing. He denies the allegations.

Leave.EU chairman Mr Banks reacted angrily to the announcement, demanded a public inquiry into the Electoral Commission and called for the resignation of its chief executive.

He also called for the resignation of Damian Collins, the Tory MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that has questioned Mr Banks.

“The Electoral Commission have serious questions to answer about political bias and whether it is fit for purpose as a regulator,” Mr Banks said.

Mr Farage told the PA news agency that he was “very, very pleased to hear the news that I’ve long expected”.

“I think the levels of accusation that have been thrown against these people from parliamentarians, even from the Electoral Commission, have been an absolute disgrace,” he added.

Officers defended the investigation and said the evidence unearthed did not reach the level required.

The Met’s Commander Alex Murray said: “It was right to investigate the allegation, however following detailed enquiries it became apparent that the nature of potential breaches of the regulations, the criminal standard of proof required in court and the actions taken by Leave.EU to adhere to the regulations, mean that it is now appropriate to take no further action.”

An Electoral Commission spokesman announced in May last year that Leave.EU had failed to include £77,380 in its spending returns, taking it 10% over the limit for non-party registered groups.

But the watchdog warned the actual overspend figure “may well have been considerably higher”, adding that the campaign had presented “incomplete and inaccurate” information.

The fine was issued and the campaign’s chief executive, Liz Bilney, was referred to the Met, with the commission saying it had “reasonable grounds to suspect that the responsible person for Leave.EU committed criminal offences”.

After the police update, Mr Banks said the probe had taken a “huge personal toll” on Ms Bilney and her family, and accused “anti-Brexit” MPs of “harassment and lies”.

The commission defended its referral, saying it believed there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” that Ms Bilney had “committed the offence of knowingly or recklessly making a false declaration about the Leave.EU spending return”.

“As the Metropolitan Police note, this does not alter the findings of the commission’s investigation from May last year, which found Ms Bilney to have committed four offences, including of submitting an inaccurate spending return and of exceeding the spending limit,” a spokesman said.

“Leave.EU appealed these findings, but the commission’s position was upheld in court.”

Probes continue into the spending returns of the Vote Leave and BeLeave campaigns.