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Friday 26 October 2018

A few months ago, Leave.EU began an investigation into potential financial wrongdoing by those campaigning to block Brexit. A project we named: Operation Payback.

We wanted to turn the tables on the anti-democrats by looking into the election spending of Best for Britain, one of the leading anti-Brexit campaigns now funded by overseas billionaire George Soros.

We also wanted to scrutinise the support they gave to individual MPs and candidates, who they shamefully called their ‘anti-Brexit champions’.

The research team has sifted through election files, searched Electoral Commission records and trawled social media. The results make for interesting reading.

By June 2017, Best for Britain – then fronted by prominent Remoaner Gina Miller – had crowdfunded £413,000 for their election campaign, trying to kick out pro-Brexit MPs.

But despite saying that funds raised would be “given directly to” preferred candidates, records now show that 22 out of 36 advertised ‘anti-Brexit champion’ MPs received no direct funding at all.

Those MPs who did receive donations from Best for Britain – 14 of them, plus 4 MPs who weren’t advertised as ‘champions’ – shared just £32,000 between them. Not even 8% of the total donations Best for Britain raised, supposedly for this purpose.

So where did the vast remainder of all the £413,000 in donations go?

Of the £375,000 that was not given away as originally promised, by far the biggest chunk (£232,000) was spent on one single PR agency. Most of this, according to the agency’s own publicity, was spent on “brand, website, communications strategy, social media and PR” – not “directly” funding candidates at all. Other questionable spending included:

  • £48,000 paid to YouGov for polling and message testing;
  • £1,734 on “Transport”, but rather than helping activists travel around to support candidates, almost all of this (£1,360) was blown on two British Airways flights bringing a strategic voting consultant over from Canada;
  • £9,045 spent on “Media”, but instead of advertising for candidates, almost all of this (£7,000) was spent on one event at the Institute for Contemporary Arts;
  • £264 of supporters’ donations even appear to have been splashed on the PR agency hiring a chair for a day! Hardly the way supporters will have expected their donations to be used.

But beyond Best for Britain misleading donors about how they would use their money, our investigation has revealed an even more serious finding. There are no entries in the group’s Electoral Commission submissions for campaign expenses relating to ‘overheads and general administration’. But the rules are very clear: election campaigners “must also include overheads or administrative costs which are associated with each activity.”

So despite saying crowdfunded donations would be “given directly to” candidates, Best for Britain gave less than half of their ‘champions’ a tiny proportion of what they raised. Despite saying they were cross-party, Best for Britain gave £5,000 straight to the Liberal Democrats. And despite continuity Remainers claiming Leave campaigns broke referendum rules, Best for Britain appear to have filed incomplete records of their own election campaign expenses.

We’re now looking at how to take our various findings forward with the appropriate authorities. But in the meantime, before throwing around wild accusations about how the Leave campaigns were conducted, continuity Remainers should really start to look a lot harder at the false claims and questionable financial conduct of their own cheerleaders.