One of the main Brexit campaign groups was fined 70,000 pounds ($95,000) on Friday by the electoral commission for breaking spending rules in Britain’s EU referendum and police may have to investigate criminal offences, the commission said.
The commission, detailing its findings in a 31-page document, said Leave.EU incorrectly reported what it spent at the EU referendum, failing to include at least 77,380 pounds in its spending return and thus exceeding a spending limit.
The documented breaches of electoral law are likely to fuel demands from opponents of Brexit for a re-run of the 2016 referendum, though there is little sign so far that the vote’s legitimacy has been undermined.
“These are serious offences,” said Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation. “Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly.”
The commission said it suspected criminal offences may have been committed, and the person responsible, Leave.EU CEO Liz Bilney, had been referred to the police.
In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million votes, or 51.9 percent of votes cast, backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million votes, or 48.1 percent of votes cast, backed staying.
But ever since the shock vote which divided the United Kingdom, opponents of Brexit have questioned what they say is Britain’s biggest mistake since World War Two and the methods and funding of campaigners for Brexit.
Supporters of leaving the EU say opponents of Brexit are trying to water down or even stop Brexit with a myriad of legal and political ploys that they warn could thrust Britain into a constitutional crisis.
Arron Banks, the founder of Leave.EU who was pictured with Donald Trump and leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage outside a gilded elevator soon after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, cast doubt on the commission’s impartiality.
Using the term Remoaners – which is often used by Brexiteers to describe opponents of Brexit such as former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair – Banks said he would face the commission in court.
“The Electoral Commission is a ‘Blairite Swamp Creation’ packed full of establishment ‘Remoaners’,” Banks said. “What a shambles. We will see them in court.”
“We view the Electoral Commission announcement as a politically motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain,” he said.
The commission said it had found no evidence that Leave.EU received donations or paid-for services from Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy at the centre of a storm over how Facebook data was used in political campaigns.
The commission said Leave.EU failed to include services it received from U.S. campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster in a spending return. The commission also found Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received.
Leave.EU exceeded the spending limit for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10 percent, the Electoral Commission said.
The total alleged overspend represented less than 0.1 percent of overall campaign finance spend, Leave.EU said.
Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica had previously denied working together on the Brexit campaign. Leave.EU was not the officially designated “leave” campaign group during the referendum.
“The Electoral Commission went big game fishing and found a few ‘aged’ dead sardines on the beach. So much for the big conspiracy,” Banks said.