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Should the EU referendum be annulled?

It’s reported that police are investigating evidence that the chief executive of a key organisation that campaigned for Brexit allegedly committed criminal offences during the 2016 referendum.

This comes after the Electoral Commission fined Leave.EU the maximum £70,000 for multiple breaches of electoral rules.

The organisation is backed by Nigel Farage and funded by Arron Banks, and played a key role in campaigning for Brexit in the referendum.

The group failed to reveal “at least” £77,380 in its spending following the referendum vote, meaning it exceeded the legal spending limits for the referendum, as laid down by law.

The Electoral Commission has also referred a key figure in Leave.EU’s management team, Liz Bilney, to the Metropolitan Police due to “reasonable grounds to suspect” that criminal offences have occurred.

Mr Banks has refuted all the findings of the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission’s director of political finance, Bob Posner, said:

“The rules we enforce were put in place by Parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes.

“It is therefore disappointing that Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules.

“Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly. These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission’s fines.”

The watchdog found the group had exceeded the spending limit for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10 per cent and said that the unlawful over-spend “may well have been considerably higher”.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard spokeswoman told The Independent:

“We can confirm that the Electoral Commission has referred a potential criminal offence under section 123(4) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

“This matter will be subject to assessment by officers from the Special Enquiry Team.”

The Electoral Commission’s investigation also uncovered that Leave.EU did not properly report the receipt of three loans from Mr Banks, totalling £6m, with dates around the transaction and the related interest rate incorrectly reported.

According to ‘The Code of Good Practice on Referendums’ issued by the Venice Commission, if the cap on spending is exceeded in a referendum by a significant amount, “the vote must be annulled.”

The Code, which is a non-binding guideline, was adopted by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in 2006/2007.

The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law. It was created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a time of urgent need for constitutional assistance in Central and Eastern Europe.

The UK is a member of the Council of Europe and has signed up to the Venice Commission.

Members of the Commission are “senior academics, particularly in the fields of constitutional or international law, supreme or constitutional court judges or members of national parliaments”.

Representing the UK on the Commission is Jeffrey Jowell, Professor of Law and former Dean of University College London.

The work of the Commission in the field of elections, referendums and political parties is steered by the Council for Democratic Elections (CDE).

The CDE is made up of representatives of the Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

Their Code of Good Practice on Referendums states under clause 3.3. on referendum funding:

“National rules on both public and private funding of political parties and election campaigns must be applicable to referendum campaigns.

“As in the case of elections, funding must be transparent, particularly when it comes to campaign accounts.

“In the event of a failure to abide by the statutory requirements, for instance if the cap on spending is exceeded by a significant margin, the vote must be annulled.

“It should be pointed out that the principle of equality of opportunity applies to public funding; equality should be ensured between a proposal’s supporters and opponents.”

The Code, however, is a guide only, and not legally binding. It’s also not clear whether the referendum overspend by Leave.EU of “at least £77,380” would represent “a significant margin” to warrant the referendum vote being annulled.

However, it’s now becoming clearer that the referendum campaign was seriously flawed, with overspending by Leave.EU that broke election law, and allegations of criminality, on top of all the lies and mistruths that the Leave campaigns had to rely upon to win the referendum.

Anyone who believes in democracy, whether a Leave or Remain supporter, should now be seriously concerned about the validity of the result of the EU referendum of 23 June 2016.

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