Brexit campaigner launches fund to appeal against £20,000 fine

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A Brexit activist fined £20,000 for breaching spending rules during the EU referendum campaign has raised the same sum to fund an appeal against the Electoral Commission’s judgment.

Darren Grimes insisted he was “completely innocent” of making false declarations in relation to a £680,000 donation to his BeLeave youth group from the main Vote Leave campaign.

He accused the Electoral Commission of acting out of “bias” against supporters of EU withdrawal and behaving as “political enforcers”.

But the commission insisted its investigation was “thorough and fair” and rejected the allegation of political bias, pointing out that it had carried out inquiries into campaigners on both sides of the referendum battle.

Mr Grimes, 24, was referred to the Metropolitan Police after the commission found last week that the massive donation should have been declared as part of Vote Leave’s spending, because the two organisations were working jointly.

The commission found that the cash was spent with data firm Aggregate IQ, which had been working for Vote Leave on targeting online ads, in a “common plan” between the official campaign and Mr Grimes’s group.

If declared, the sum would have taken Vote Leave – fronted by leading politicians including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – over its £7 million spending limit.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove
Vote Leave was fronted by leading politicians including Michael Gove sand Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In a statement, Mr Grimes insisted the commission’s judgment was “simply wrong and based on inaccurate assertions and a misunderstanding of the law”.

He alleged he was “just the latest in a long line of Leave campaigners that the commission have issued trumped-up charges against” and that their finding resulted from “bias” against Brexiteers.

“I am not a rich person. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to pay the maximum fine that they’ve unfairly slapped me with – despite saying there are ‘substantial’ matters in mitigation that they’ve decided to ignore,” he said.

“But this isn’t just about me. Most importantly, I don’t want to let the commission get away with this.

“I believe the commission’s conduct has been appalling. We depend on organisations like the commission to safeguard our democracy.

“How long before they start going after parties their senior figures dislike? How long until candidates they have a grudge against find themselves unfairly penalised? Politics relies on people to put their head above the parapet – who in their right mind would now?

“I believe their judgment against me was the result of bias – not the result of proper due process. I believe that, far from acting as guardians, they are acting as political enforcers.

“I think they are undermining our democracy, and I am asking for help to expose what they are doing and to stop them.”

Less than two hours after announcing his appeal, Mr Grimes had received pledges totalling more than £20,000 on his page.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “The laws we enforce were put in place by Parliament to provide voters with transparency and confidence in the system. We conducted a thorough and fair investigation and found that the law had been broken and have applied our sanctions accordingly.

“We open investigations where the evidence justifies it, irrespective of the political views of the party or campaigner concerned. Between June 2016 and April 2018 we have published details of 38 investigations arising from the EU referendum where offences were found. These include campaigners for both Remain and Leave outcomes.”

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