“Downing Street has been accused of pushing through key Brexit votes before MPs know the result of an investigation into whether Theresa May’s advisors broke the law during the EU Referendum
Stephen Parkinson, the PM’s political secretary, and Cleo Watson – also a Downing Street staffer – are both being investigated by the Electoral Commission as part of an inquiry into whether the official Brexit campaign broke spending limits.
The investigation was launched in November, but the Electoral Commission has now presented its findings to those under investigation. They have 28 days to provide a response to the conclusion before the report is made public.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson is questioning if the votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill – planned for Tuesday and Wednesday – are being rushed through before MPs have the chance to consider the results of the investigation.
He said: “Each day the plot thickens about the murky dealings of the various Brexit campaigns.
“Now it seems senior figures at the heart of Number 10 who were involved in Vote Leave could have been informed about the contents of this important Electoral Commission investigation long before anyone else.
“If that’s true Number 10 would have had time to plan and even ensure key Brexit votes like the ones this week could happen before the investigation
should really still be shaping and taking decisions at the heart of Government.”
The investigation centres around payments made by Vote Leave to clear debts of £625,000 run up by university student Darren Grimes with the digital campaign company AggregateIQ Data.
Grimes – who ran the BeLeave group – was allowed by electoral law to spend £700,000 in the campaign.
As the official campaign group, Vote Leave could spend £7million, and if it had commissioned and spent that £625,000 itself it would have breached the spending limits.
The Electoral Commission initially accepted the Vote Leave argument that it had donated the money to Grimes, despite settling the bill with AggregateIQ directly.
A separate group, Veterans for Britain, also received £100,000 from Vote Leave.
But in November it reopened its investigation, claiming new information had come to light.
Downing Street is drawn into the investigation as Stephen Parkinson – the PM’s Political Secretary – was National Organiser for Vote Leave during the referendum campaign.
He is accused by former Vote Leave volunteer Shahmir Sanni of directing how BeLeave should spend money – something which would be a breach of electoral law.
In March, Parkinson revealed he and Sanni had been in a relationship as part of his denial, prompting Sanni to claim his family in Pakistan – who did not know he was gay – were forced to take “urgent protective measures” for their own safety.”