Priti Patel given a lesson in evidence

Written by James Millar on 2 August 2018 in Diary

Elections watchdog explains concept of neutrality to leading Leave campaigner after she accuses Remain of cheating

The Electoral Commission has dismissed claims made by former Cabinet minister Priti Patel that the official Remain campaign cheated during the Brexit referendum.

The ex-international development secretary had submitted a dossier alleging Britain Stronger In Europe had colluded with other organisations aiming to win a remain vote and had broken spending limits in doing so.

The claims followed the Electoral Commission finding that the winning Vote Leave campaign did cheat by breaking its £7 million spending limit and co-ordinating with BeLeave, another Brexit group run by then student Darren Grimes. Vote Leave was fined £61,000 for failing to co-operate with the watchdog, Grimes £20,000 and both have been referred to the police. 

Patel's evidence of Remain wrongdoing rested on accounts in journalist Tim Shipman's book about the Brexit referendum that a number of Remain groups phoned each other every morning. She also pointed to a video titled 'Don't Fuck My Future' in which stars such as Keira Knightley urged voters to reject Brexit. The video was produced by the Adam and Eve agency, which was a registered campaigner for the referendum, and shared by Britain Stronger In Europe and many other remain organisations. Patel claimed this was evidence of co-ordinated working together and of shared spending that went undeclared. However the Electoral Commission said it could find "nothing beyond conjecture" to back that up. And Electoral Commission head of regulation Louise Edwards took the opportunity to write to Patel expressing her disappointment that the MP has questioned the organsiations impartiality and explaining how neutrality works.

She said: "I appreciate your support for the Commission's role and independence and belive the best way for us to maintain our independence is to continue our evidence-led approach. It would be wrong of us to take decisions basis that we must balance action in respect of 'leave' campaigners with action in respect of 'remain' campaigners. That would undermine our neutrality, rather than ensure it."

The Electoral Commission did agree to open an investigation into little known Remain group Wake Up and Vote which aimed to mobilise the youth vote ahead of the 2016 poll and its part in producing the video. 

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