The UK Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into the spending of the Leave and Remain campaigns ahead of last year's EU referendum.
Figures released last year showed a 52 to 48 per cent split between Leave and Remain in EU referendum donations.
The Electoral Commission today published details of more than £27m of campaign spending, and said it's now considering "a number of issues", with investigations opened into the spending returns submitted by both the lead campaigners – The IN Campaign Limited, or Britain Stronger in Europe, and Vote Leave Limited – as well as the Liberal Democrats, and Butlins owner Peter Harris.
The Commission is undertaking further examination of the spending returns submitted by the six other campaigners before deciding whether to formally assess them. The Commission is also assessing Grassroots Out Limited which "appears to have missing donation and/or loan reports in its return for spending under £250,000".
"The spending returns that we have published indicate that this was the most well-funded referendum ever in the UK," said the Electoral Commission's director of political finance and regulation, Bob Posner.
"Voters must be given an opportunity to see what campaigners at last year’s historic referendum spent their money on in order to secure votes."
He added: “It is disappointing that some campaigners, including both lead campaigners, appear to have not fully reported all their spending as they should have. Missing spending details undermines transparency and makes the returns harder for the public to understand."
Where it appears campaigners have not fulfilled their legal obligations, we have begun and will continue to take action to deal with this.
“Our statutory role requires us to publish spending returns provided to us by campaigners which we expect to be in a fit state," Posner continued.
"To make a number of these ready for publication, the Commission has had to work with some campaigners to improve the quality of information originally submitted. This has included calling campaigners in to explain their returns. The Commission will continue to examine campaigners' spending returns until it is satisfied that they are complete and accurate.”
Issues to consider
The Commission said the following issues are under consideration:
- Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave do not appear to have delivered all the necessary invoices and receipts to support their returns. There are also issues with the delivery of all the details required in the return, including supplier details for a number of payments. The Liberal Democrats' spending return also appears to be missing some details including invoices, receipts and supplier names.
- One campaigner, the European Movement of the UK, declared a total spend of £329,000 but has supplied payment details of only £290,000.
- Two campaigners, Labour Leave and the UK Independence Party, submitted returns with discrepancies in the way they reported the same campaigning activity.
- One campaigner, Mr Peter Harris, delivered his spending return late and without the required audit report. Another campaigner, Conservatives IN, appears to have delivered a donation report late.
In 2015, David Cameron increased the campaign budget limit by 40 per cent, a move that angered some Eurosceptics who claimed the hike in potential spending would put them at an increased disadvantage.