The main pro-Leave campaign in Britain’s EU referendum may have broken spending rules by donating money to a pro-Brexit youth group, according to an account by a senior figure in the youth organization published by the Observer newspaper on Sunday.
The accusations come from Shahmir Sanni, who served as secretary and treasurer of the BeLeave group. He told the Observer that a £625,000 donation to the group from the Vote Leave campaign was never under the control of his organization.
“Vote Leave didn’t really give us that money,” he said. “They just pretended to. We had no control over it. We were 22-year-old students. You’re not going to just give nearly a million pounds to a pair of students and let them do whatever.”
All those accused in the Observer story denied wrongdoing. In addition, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, dismissed the story on Twitter as “utterly ludicrous.”
“#VoteLeave won fair & square — and legally. We are leaving the EU in a year and going global,” he said.
U.K. laws control the amount of money that can be spent in elections and a limit of £7 million was set for the two main campaign groups in the Brexit referendum. Campaign groups working together have to declare their common expenses and keep them below the £7 million limit. Sanni’s account suggests that Vote Leave used its donation to BeLeave as a way to get round the spending cap.
The Vote Leave campaign said BeLeave was a separate organization and the U.K. Electoral Commission backed that view in April 2017.
But Sanni said the donation went straight to Canadian data analytics firm AggregateIQ (AIQ), which did extensive work for the Vote Leave campaign
That company has “undisclosed links” to Cambridge Analytica, the Observer reported. Cambridge Analytica is at the heart of a scandal over alleged harvesting of Facebook users’ data without their consent for use in Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign. The company denies wrongdoing.
In a statement on its website, AIQ said it “is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated. AggregateIQ has never been and is not a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL. Aggregate IQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica.”