Senior Tory MP calls for Brexit referendum to be re-run after ‘cheating’ Vote Leave broke electoral law

Vote Leave has been found guilty of breaking electoral law (Picture: PA)

A senior Conservative MP has called for the EU referendum to be re-run after it was revealed that the official Brexit campaign broke electoral law.

Sarah Wollaston said the results of an investigation by the Electoral Commission into the Vote Leave campaign revealed deliberate “cheating”.

During an urgent question on the issue in the House of Commons, she said: “Consequences must follow, we cannot have confidence that this referendum was secure and it should be re-run.”

And former Tory minster Sir Nicholas Soames said the electoral system should be “blown up and started all over again” in the wake of the revelations.

He said the voting and democratic system was once one of the UK’s “great glories”, but labelled the findings of the Electoral Commission’s report into Vote Leave as “gross”.

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston says there should be a re-run of the EU referendum (Picture: PA)
Sir Nicholas Soames said the electoral system should be “blown up and started again” (Picture: PA)

The commission said its investigation found “significant evidence” of joint working between Vote Leave – which has been fined £61,000 – and another campaign group, BeLeave, which was founded by student Darren Grimes. Those involved have been referred to the police.

During an urgent question from Labour’s Chuka Umunna about the probe, Sir Nicholas 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.”

Mr Umunna told MPs the findings of the Electoral Commission were “shocking” and said Vote Leave’s actions were an “affront to our democracy”.

He said: “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?”

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Shadow Cabinet Office minister Christian Matheson said Vote Leave’s activities only came to light due to whistleblowers, asking: “What was the response of those involved? They outed one of those whistleblowers as gay without his permission and therefore put him and his family at risk.

“One of the people responsible for this outing was working as a senior adviser in Downing Street. The Prime Minister refused to sack him so presumably she supports or at least excuses these monstrous actions.

“Will she now on the back of this report dismiss him as an adviser?”

Mr Matheson asked Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Tory former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, both involved in Vote Leave, to explain to the Commons their role in the “initial scandal and the cover-up”, and questioned if they would be referred to the Cabinet Secretary for investigation on whether or not they have broken the ministerial code.

SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Tommy Sheppard said: “I’d like an assurance from the minister now that anyone who was involved in working for Vote Leave or on its board will cease to hold office in Government or cease to be on the Government payroll.”

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith replied: “I’m not going to make that commitment here today because there are a number of questions raised in this report which are still subject to ongoing investigations.”

Leading Tories Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove campaigned for Vote Leave (Picture: PA)

And Tory former home secretary Amber Rudd told the Commons: “This matters. Could I respectfully say to the minister that she should not let the Government’s commitment to delivering on the referendum result to obfuscate from the real questions that are being raised here.”

Pro-Leave Tory former minister Sir Christopher Chope said there was “synthetic outrage” from Remain campaigners.

But Anna Soubry, a pro-EU Tory former minister, said: “There are not only concerns about the overspend, there are concerns about the source of the money.

“The evidence is mounting, it’s clearly there, that another country – let’s be honest, Russia – exercised its influence to undermine this country’s democracy and indeed this country’s security.”

Ms Soubry urged the Government to “act now” over the issues raised.

Labour former minister David Lammy called on ministers to declare the referendum result “void”.

He said: “Can the Government declare this referendum void on the basis of the evidence that we’ve been provided by the Electoral Commission, and if not, given this was an advisory referendum by this Parliament, can she bring forward the vote in this Parliament to declare this referendum void?”

Ms Smith responded saying that the Government would not be bringing forward such a proposal.

Labour MP David Lammy said Vote Leave’s behaviour made the referendum result “look dodgier than ever” (Picture: PA)

Earlier, Mr Lammy, part of the Best For Britain campaign, called the referendum result into question.

He said: “This news makes the narrow referendum result looks dodgier than ever. It’s validity is now in question.

“Politicians from all parties have a duty to ask: do we want to continue with a policy that will wreck our economy and consume government for the next decade, based on this flimsy result?”

Vote Leave failed to declare money it spent with controversial data firm Aggregate IQ, the Electoral Commission said.

The commission said its investigation found “significant evidence” of joint working between Vote Leave – which has been fined £61,000 – and another campaign group, BeLeave, which was founded by student Darren Grimes.

Mr Grimes was fined £20,000 and referred to the Metropolitan Police along with Mr David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, “in relation to false declarations of campaign spending”, the Commission added.

Vote Leave accused the Commission of being “motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts”.

The investigation centred on a donation of almost £680,000 made by Vote Leave to BeLeave, a youth Brexit group.

The Commission found that BeLeave “spent more than £675,000 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave”, which should have been declared by the latter but was not.

This spending took Vote Leave over its £7 million legal spending limit by almost £500,000.

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission director of political finance, said: “We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits.

“These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.

“Our findings relate primarily to the organisation which put itself forward as fit to be the designated campaigner for the ‘leave’ outcome.”

Vote Leave was the official registered Brexit-supporting campaign group for the 2016 referendum.

As well as Mr Johnson, the former foreign secretary, and Mr Gove, the current Environment Secretary, it was supported by MPs including Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and her predecessor Priti Patel, the new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and leading Labour Brexiteer Gisela Stuart.

The original allegations against the campaigns came from information provided by whistleblowers including Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni, who alleged the money was used to pay Aggregate IQ for targeted messaging services on Facebook and other social media.

Mr Wylie worked for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the centre of the Facebook privacy scandal, while Mr Sanni worked with Vote Leave.

Vote Leave is the latest Brexiteer group to be penalised financially and have senior figures referred to the police for investigation.

In May, Brexit campaign group Leave.EU was fined a record-equalling £70,000 and its chief executive Liz Bilney referred to police over its spending during the referendum campaign.

Vote Leave collaborated too closely with a smaller Brexit campaign (Picture: PA)

A Vote Leave spokesman said the Electoral Commission’s report contained “a number of false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny”.

He said: “Vote Leave has provided evidence to the Electoral Commission proving there was no wrongdoing.

“And yet, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing by the Remain campaign, the Commission has chosen to ignore this and refused to launch an investigation.

“All this suggests that the supposedly impartial Commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts.

“The Commission has failed to follow due process, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories.

“We will consider the options available to us, but are confident that these findings will be overturned.”

He also reiterated the claim that the Commission failed to interview anyone from the campaign despite them being “willing to do so”.

But Mr Posner added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation.

“It has refused to co-operate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.

“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”