The Electoral Commission published a guidance document before the EU membership referendum entitled “Working together for EU referendum campaigners.”
The Commission defines Working Together as: “spending money as a result of a coordinated plan or arrangement between two or more campaigners during the referendum period that is intended to, or is otherwise in connection with, promoting or bringing about a particular outcome in the referendum.”
The choice on the ballot paper was yes or no, in or out. A binary choice between two particular outcomes. One goal for all Leave groups.
“Analysing the declared donations, loans, and spending of key Leave groups and Donors, a picture emerges which clearly shows co-ordination between donors and anti-EU campaign groups backed by around £16.24 million in Loans, cash donations, and provision of non-cash services through like suppliers.”
“We use the words working together and joint campaigning to indicate when campaigners spend money with other campaigners as part of a coordinated plan or arrangement,” the guidance document adds.
Analysing the declared donations, loans, and spending of key Leave groups and Donors, a picture emerges which clearly shows co-ordination between donors and anti-EU campaign groups backed by around £16.24 million in Loans, cash donations, and provision of non-cash services through like suppliers.
The first and most glaring connection which appears in the analysis is the use of Soopa Doopa Branding by Grass Roots Out, Go Movement, the DUP, Leave.EU, UKIP, and Vote Leave.
In total, these six separately registered groups spent a total of around £818,200 with one supplier based in East Cambridgeshire.
“A just dessert to the main dish leaving the EU has become. Not an Eton Mess, but a stickier Brexit one.”
According to its website, Soopa Doopa are “specialists in the supply and creation of branded promotional products and corporate gifts.”
“In the last year Soopa Doopa have been voted second-best promotional merchandise distributor in the UK, and Business of the Year for East Cambridgeshire. We have managed orders and campaigns of all sizes, including national campaigns for blue chip companies and political organisations,” the site adds.
Formerly called Addictive Branding, the current directors are listed at Companies House as Thomas Scott-Paul and and Gavin Lambert.
From there on in, it gets untidy. A just dessert to the main dish leaving the EU has become. Not an Eton Mess, but a stickier Brexit one.
Starting gently, billionaire Peter Hargreaves made £6.4 million in donations to Leave.EU, having previously made a much smaller donation to the 2011 No Campaign in the Alternative Vote referendum.
Hargreaves also allegedly wrote letters to 15 million British voters, asking for their support of the Leave vote.
Richard Tice, a property developer, and Arron Banks founded Leave.EU together, with Banks shown as providing the venture with £6 million in loans, on top of Hargreaves’ donations.
Tice himself made like donations of £12,000 in cash and non-cash form to Go Movement, which Nigel Farage – at the time leader of UKIP – is officially listed as part of in Companies House records, alongside MP Peter Bone.
At the time a UKIP MP and colleague of Farage, Douglas Carswell, was listed on the official entry for Vote Leave.
Bone is also listed at Companies House under Grass Roots Out, who donated £10,700 in cash and £10,343.16 in non cash services to Farage and Tice’s Go Movement.
Leave.EU also made a non-cash donation of £1.95 million to Grass Roots Out.
Banks was also listed as head of Better For The Country.
Banks’s BTFC provided £108,000 cash to Trade Unionists Against The EU, £70,000 to UKIP for Rallies, and £100,000 cash Veterans for Britain.
Veterans for Britain also recieved a £100,000 non-cash donation from Vote Leave for the services of Aggregate IQ, a data company, and also have a £100,000 invoice for the services of Aggregate IQ listed in their return.
Aggregate IQ are listed as having provided services to the DUP, totalling £32,750 and £670,000 to Darren Grimes (who referred to himself as BeLeave) – which was, in turn, funded by Vote Leave.
Aggregate IQ has been linked to Trump data firm Cambridge Analytica, which is being investigated for its donation of undeclared services to Banks via Leave.EU.
Banks’s BTFC also paid £100,000 to WAGTV, the production company who made Brexit The Movie – a pro-Leave Film.
Former UKIP donor Patrick Barbour donated £100,000 in advertising to UKIP and also put £60,000 cash to WAGTV.
Barbour also donated £500,000 to Vote Leave and £60,000 to the pro-leave Bruges Group, who also donated £12,000 to Peter Bone’s Grass Roots Out.
“If the Electoral Commission were to take the view Leave groups had been working together, based upon their final spending declarations they would have been approximately £5 million over the main campaign spending limit, without considering the DUP.”
The Bruges Group also donated £5,000 to Vote Leave.
In essence, the Electoral Commission records show an incestutous relationship between the pro-Leave groups and donors worth millions and, taking into account they were all aiming for one single answer in a two question ballot, it appears nigh on impossible they did not, in the purest sense of the term, work together.
If the Electoral Commission were to take the view Leave groups had been working together, based upon their final spending declarations they would have been approximately £5 million over the main campaign spending limit, without considering the DUP.
Confusingly, however, the Working Together rules also say: “Making donations to another campaigner is not working together.”
The flaw is glaring and, in practice, this gap in the regulation was big enough for several buseses to drive through in formation.
There is a need for the wholesale review of regulations around donations and co-ordination because the current system does not work in the public interest.