Official Brexit campaign broke electoral law, says UK watchdog

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The group named as the official pro-Brexit campaign for the UK’s 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union broke electoral law, according to a government watchdog.

The Electoral Commission found that Vote Leave broke electoral spending rules by coordinating with a smaller non-official pro-Brexit group, BeLeave, to pay for the services of data mining company AggregateIQ.

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The Commission concluded that Vote Leave overspent its £7 million ($9.3m) allowance by £449,000 ($595,000), once a sum of £675,000 paid to AggregateIQ was taken into account.

Read the Electoral Commission report here.

It fined Vote Leave £61,000 and the founder of BeLeave £20,000. Details of the investigation into the founder of BeLeave and an official from Vote Leave were given to the police.

Several key pro-Brexit figures sat on the board of Vote Leave including sitting and former government ministers such as Boris Johnson, who resigned as Foreign Secretary on July 9.

In a statement, Vote Leave dismissed the findings and attacked the individual members of the Electoral Commission panel. Vote Leave intends to challenge the Commission’s findings in court.

Read more: Trade, transition, and the Irish border: a Brexit talks crib sheet.

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In Brussels/Strasbourg

  • On December 15, 2017, leaders of the 27 EU member states, excluding the UK, met in Brussels and approved the agreements made in principle between the UK and EU negotiators.
  • The heads of state agreed that “sufficient progress” had been made to move on to the next phase of negotiations, though several expressed concerns that problems could still rise over a lack of clarity on thorny issues such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • Delegations of negotiators led by UK Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier have been meeting in Brussels every few weeks since June.
  • This is the first phase of negotiations. They have been trying to agree to terms on three areas of the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU: citizens’ rights, settling outstanding financial obligations, and the Irish border.
  • On December 13, in Strasbourg, members of the European Parliament voted in favor of moving on to the next phase of negotiations, now that an interim deal has been reached.
  • In early December, UK Prime Minister Theresa May went to Brussels to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to thrash out an agreement.
    • The agreement, “in principle,” says that there will be no “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
    • EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, will have their rights to live, work and study protected.
    • The “divorce bill,” covering the UK’s outstanding financial obligations under agreements made while it was an EU member, likely will be £35 billion to £39 billion ($47 billion to $52 billion), Davis said during a BBC interview.
    • The agreement was criticized as a capitulation by pro-Brexit politicians.
  • On January 29, the EU Council agreed on the parameters of the second phase of negotiations. Their position is that the UK will have a transitional period up until December 31 2020, in which the UK will abide by EU law and remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but will not be represented on the council.
  • On February 8, a Dutch court referred a case brought by five Britons to the European Court of Justice, seeking to ensure their rights as EU citizens can be protected after Brexit.
  • On February 28, the European Commission released its draft agreement on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. The draft confirmed the EU’s position that the only way to avoid a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland, preventing the risk of undermining the Good Friday peace agreement, is to maintain full regulatory alignment between both jurisdictions.
  • On March 19, EU and UK negotiators released a color-coded version of the draft agreement, confirming they have agreed to a transition period in which EU citizens will be able to arrive in the UK with full rights (and vice versa). The UK also agreed to the EU’s terms on Northern Ireland, but only as a “backstop” allowing them to seek an alternative solution.

In Westminster

  • On December 13, 2017, the UK parliament rejected the government’s version of its Withdrawal Bill which
    • Repeals the European Communities Act of 1972, which (with a number of amendments in the intervening years) is the legal basis for European legislation being incorporated into UK law.
    • Provides for a degree of continuity, through a category of “retained EU law” which provides legal grounding for the EU legislation that will be retained.
    • MPs in the opposition and May’s own party have criticized the bill, which as it stands allows ministers to amend EU law without a vote in parliament. The bill’s opponents say that it would allow ministers to amend EU legislation in the UK without parliamentary scrutiny or approval.
  • On December 13, May told parliament that MPs would get a vote on the full and final agreement between the UK and EU “well before” the UK’s official leaving date in March 2019.
  • Parliament voted in favor of an amendment to the bill tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve that will ensure that parliament gets a “meaningful” vote on the final deal. Labour back the amendment, and 12 Conservative MPs, including Grieve, defied their party whips by voting against the government’s version of the bill.
  • On February 29, the House of Lords Constitutional Committee said in a statement that the EU Withdrawal Bill has “fundamental flaws,” and “risks undermining the legal certainty it seeks to provide.” The legislation requires approval from the upper chamber, the Lords, to pass.
  • On February 26, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said that if he was elected his government would push for the creation of a UK-EU customs union that would prevent tariffs on goods traded between the UK and EU, as well as preventing any need for border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • On March 2, Theresa May delivered a “hard facts” speech, reiterating her position that there can be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, nor can there be regulatory lines between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
  • On July 8, the politician nominally responsible for Brexit negotiations with the European Union, David Davis, resigned his post. He has been replaced by Dominic Raab, the housing minister. Raab campaigned strongly for Brexit before the June 2016 referendum, the BBC says.
    • Davis was quoted as saying that the United Kingdom was “giving away too much, too easily” in negotiations with the EU over its departure from the community (RTE). His resignation followed a meeting of the British cabinet on Friday July 6, after which the Prime Minister, Theresa May, said there was a united front on the decision for a “soft Brexit.”
    • Davis’s ministerial colleague, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, followed suit with his resignation on July 9 (Guardian). Johnson also urged a “Leave” vote in 2016 and was reported to have been highly critical of Mrs May’s Brexit plan after the July 6 meeting.
  • On July 12, Theresa May published a policy paper outlining her government’s position on key negotiating points. The White paper commits to seeking free movement for skilled workers and students, and says the UK will try to agree to a “common rule book” and “facilitated customs arrangement.”
  • On July 17, the Electoral Commission announced that the official campaign for exiting the EU broke spending limits in the build-up to the 2016 referendum. Vote Leave dismissed the findings.

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