Vote Leave is under investigation by the Electoral Commission over whether it breached the £7m EU referendum spending limit, with allegations being made that it channelled funds for a social Brexit media campaign via £625,000 in donations to a student. The watchdog said that the new information meant it had “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed” and said it would examine if the Boris Johnson and Michael Gove-fronted campaign had filed its returns correctly. Its unexpected intervention came as the commission was facing a legal challenge from remain grassroots campaigners, unhappy that it had dropped a previous investigation into the spending of Vote Leave and satellite Brexit campaigns that are accused of not being properly independent of it.
During the referendum campaign, fashion design student Darren Grimes, who was then 23 and ran a campaign called BeLeave, was given £625,000 by Vote Leave. The cash was paid directly to a data analytics firm specialising in social media called AggregateIQ that had also been heavily used by Vote Leave.
Electoral campaign records show Vote Leave spent around 40% of its entire £6.8m total spend on using the firm’s data analysis services. Vote Leave’s legal limit as the designated leave campaign was £7m.
As a registered independent leave campaigner, Grimes was permitted to spend up to £700,000 during the referendum campaign. It was also permissible for him to receive a donation from Vote Leave, as long as his BeLeave campaign was run entirely independently.