This blog is about Steve Baker’s involvement with Vote Leave, an organisation which campaigned for Brexit and broke electoral law.
Steve Baker was a member of the Campaign Committee of Vote Leave. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were the main spokesmen for Vote Leave and were also on the Campaign Committee.
The Campaign Committee was the governing body that met weekly during the referendum campaign to set the campaign strategy for Vote Leave.
The Electoral Commission designated Vote Leave Ltd as the lead campaigner for the Leave campaign. As such, it was allowed to spend up to £7 million on its campaign under electoral law.
Others were campaigning for the UK to leave the EU. Veterans for Britain registered with the Electoral Commission which allowed them to spend up to £700,000 under electoral law. BeLeave, a youth group, didn’t register and was therefore only allowed to spend up to £10,000.
In July, the Electoral Commission published the conclusions of its investigation into campaign spending by Vote Leave, Veterans for Britain and BeLeave.
BeLeave had declared a donation of more than £675,000 from Vote Leave which it spent on work from a company called Aggregate IQ. The Commission found evidence of joint working between Vote Leave and BeLeave and that this spend was incurred under a common plan. In effect, BeLeave was an arm of Vote Leave.
This meant the £675,000 should have been declared by Vote Leave. This meant Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000. This was an offence under electoral law.
Vote Leave also returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £235,000 reported incorrectly. This too was an offence.
Vote Leave also failed to co-operate with the Commission’s investigation and did not comply with an investigation notice. This too was an offence.
Meanwhile BeLeave had spent way over its spending limit of £10,000, wrongly reporting the £675,000 as BeLeave’s spending. These were offences.
Finally, Veterans for Britain wrongly declared £100,000 as a cash donation. It was actually a payment by Vote Leave for work done by Aggregate IQ for Veterans for Britain. This was an offence.
Vote Leave and the ‘responsible persons’ for Vote Leave, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain broke electoral law. Vote Leave and the responsible persons for BeLeave and Veterans for Britain were fined £61,000, £20,000 and £250 respectively.
The Electoral Commision said it “found substantial evidence that [Vote Leave and BeLeave] worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums….
“Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.”
So where you may ask is Steve Baker’s involvement?
Well back in February 2016 a few months before the referendum, Steve Baker MP wrote to his Vote Leave colleagues about a loophole he believed he had uncovered. He said Vote Leave would be able to spend £7 million and added “
“It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum”.
We now know this is not a loophole; it is a way of trying to get round electoral law. Vote Leave tried Steve Baker’s way of evading the law, got found out and has been fined.
What we still don’t know is:
1. Did Steve Baker ever take proper legal advice on his brilliant idea for evading the law?
2. Did he, as a member of Vote Leave’s Campaign Committee, know:
a) that there was joint working between Vote Leave and BeLeave;
b) that this meant the £675, 000 transferred to BeLeave should actually be included in Vote Leave’s spending; and
c) that the inclusion of the £675,000 in Vote Leave’s spending pushed Vote Leave over its spending limit and meant it was breaking the law?
3. If he did, what did he do about it? Did he:
a) challenge the joint working or try to ensure Vote Leave complied with the law? Or
b) encourage, or get actively involved in, the joint working between Vote Leave and BeLeave, despite knowing this would lead to Vote Leave breaking the law?
4. If he didn’t know about the joint working or that it pushed Vote Leave over the legal spending limit, why not?
5. Does he agree with the way in which Vote Leave has broken the law in failing to co-operate with the Commission?
The Commission has now referred the investigation to the police.
Not a word from Steve Baker.