Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 after being found guilty of breaking electoral law during the Brexit campaign. Two people have been referred to the police. But with this initial investigation concluded, Britain faces a difficult period of soul searching over what to do about this evidence of extensive wrongdoing. A democracy is only as strong as the elections that set its course. If they can be bought or subverted, then confidence in democracy and the legitimacy of the governments it installs, seeps away. But astonishingly, the details that have been gradually revealed, of illegal activity by both the official Vote Leave and the unofficial Leave.EU campaigns in the run-up to the Brexit vote, appear to have no immediate consequences. Most British elections are guaranteed by law. If evidence of serious cheating is uncovered they can be scrutinised and overturned in an “election court”, overseen by high court judges.
The official pro-Brexit campaign group has been fined and referred to the police after the UK’s elections watchdog found it had broken Britain’s strict electoral laws. The Electoral Commission fined Vote Leave £61,000 ($81,000) for coordinating with another campaign group — called BeLeave — and exceeding spending limits during the 2016 referendum campaign. In a damning ruling, the commission said it had imposed a punitive fine on Vote Leave, and accused it of frustrating the watchdog’s investigation. “We found substantial evidence that the two groups (Vote Leave and BeLeave) worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits,” said Bob Posner, Electoral Commission director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel, in a statement.
United Kingdom: Watchdog investigates links between Canadian data firm and Vote Leave | The Guardian
The Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the relationship between the Canadian data firm AggregateIQ, Vote Leave and a number of other leave campaigns, the body has said in a report published on Wednesday. The investigation is one of the many started by the ICO in response to reporting by the Observer and Guardian suggesting that widespread data misuse may have occurred during the EU referendum period. The ICO report, citing data handed over by Facebook in May, says: “AIQ created and, in some cases, placed advertisements on behalf of the DUP Vote to Leave campaign, Vote Leave, BeLeave, and Veterans for Britain.
United Kingdom: Brexit’s biggest campaign donor ‘investigated by National Crime Agency over links to Russia’ | The Independent
Brexit’s biggest campaign donor is reportedly being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) over alleged links to Russia. The NCA was handed emails belonging to multimillionaire Arron Banks, co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign, revealing previously undisclosed meetings between the businessman and the Russian ambassador in London, according to The Times. The emails reportedly show Mr Banks was offered three Russian business deals in the buildup to the Brexit vote, including a gold mine in west Africa and a stake in Russia’s state-owned diamond mining organisation Alrosa. The revelations about the extent of Mr Banks’s Russian contacts will trigger further scrutiny as to whether the Russians sought to influence the Brexit vote.
United Kingdom: A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That “Cheating” Swung the Brexit Vote | The New Yorker
Christopher Wylie—the twenty-eight-year-old whistle-blower who has detailed how Cambridge Analytica, the controversial political-consulting firm, harvested personal data from as many as fifty million Facebook users—appeared before a committee of British M.P.s on Tuesday. During Wylie’s almost four hours of testimony, he rejected the various dodges, equivocations, and denials that his former employer has made about its use of Facebook data. “It is categorically untrue, categorically untrue, that Cambridge Analytica has never used Facebook data,” Wylie said. “Facebook’s data, and the acquisition using Aleksandr Kogan’s app, was the foundational data of the company. That is how the algorithms were developed. They spent a million dollars, at least, on that acquisition project.”
Facebook has agreed to hand over information showing the reach of Russian-backed postings during the Brexit referendum by early December, according to the House of Commons media watchdog. Damian Collins, the chair of parliament’s culture, media and sport committee, said he believed the figures would give the UK a better idea of whether Russia tried to influence the vote on leaving the EU. Facebook handed over similar information in the US showing that during the presidential campaign about 123 million people were reached by false news generated by a single troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, in St Petersburg.
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.
MPs are stepping up their inquiry into fake news in an effort to extract answers from Facebook and Twitter about the extent of Russian interference in last year’s EU referendum and this year’s UK general election. Russian entities are known to have bought adverts on Facebook and generated election-related content before Donald Trump won last year’s US presidential election, while authorities in France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted.
New investigations released this week suggest the Russians meddled in Britain’s historic referendum last year to leave the European Union, placing an already weakened Prime Minister Theresa May in a most awkward position — just when she needs to be her strongest in Brexit negotiations. The evidence that the Russians, with possible support from the Kremlin, bombarded British targets with social media tweets and posts was splashed on the nightly news and front pages in Britain. Even so, the prime minister and her office stressed that Russian propaganda had “no direct successful influence” on the Brexit vote. Critics of May say an admission that Russia tried to dupe British voters could raise questions about the Conservative Party’s mandate to extricate Britain from the European Union.
United Kingdom: Brexit, the ministers, the professor and the spy: how Russia pulls strings in UK | The Guardian
On “or about” 25 April 2016, a member of Donald Trump’s campaign team emailed his line manager with good news. His efforts to make contact with the highest levels of power in Moscow had borne fruit: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr Trump to meet him when he is ready.” This was George Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign who was arrested by the FBI in July, it was revealed last week, after lying about a series of meetings with a man the FBI described as “a professor based in London”. The next sentence in his email added a line of explanation: “The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral cities’.” The Papadopoulos indictment is a riveting read – a sober, tautly worded document whose contents may have exploded across the news cycle like a dirty bomb, but which sticks to the facts. In doing so, it could provide not just evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime, but also the first cold, hard evidence of Britain’s central role.