Could the 'Vote Leave' data scandal lead to Brexit being cancelled?
There's exactly a year until Brexit, but could it be stopped by recent scandals? Experts weigh in
As of today, we’re exactly one year away from making Nigel Farage’s dream come true with Britain set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. But if we’re being totally honest, things have never looked murkier. In recent days, scandals have emerged over the role of Trump-linked data company Cambridge Analytica and there have been allegations that Vote Leave members broke the law over their campaign spending.
Here’s a breakdown of all the depressing, seedy claims:
1. Cambridge Analytica
The first revelation came from pink-haired whistleblower Christopher Wylie who claimed that a Facebook data breach saw 50 million users have their profiles harvested for use by his employer Cambridge Analytica. And, it’s been shown, this controversial data company has links to both the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU Referendum and to Donald Trump’s march to victory in the presidential elections the same year.
And earlier this week, Wylie gave explosive evidence to MPs about how ‘cheating’ by the Leave campaign might have swayed the Brexit vote.
2. Vote Leave funding
Meanwhile, Shahmir Sanni, a whistleblower who worked for Vote Leave, has claimed that key figures behind the referendum vote may have broken referendum spending rules and then tried to destroy evidence. In fact, a mass of documents and files supporting his claims have been passed to the Electoral Commission and to the police.
Clare Montgomery and Helen Mountfield, barristers from Matrix chambers, have argued that Leave members ‘may have committed criminal offences’ in relation to the £7 million legal election spending limit.
In response, Cambridge Analytica and Vote Leave deny the claims.
So, what could happen next? Could Brexit be cancelled?
A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission, the independent body that regulates party and election finance and sets standards for the UK’s elections, confirmed to ShortList that there are investigations ongoing into Vote Leave members.
“The Commission has a number of investigations open in relation to campaigners at the EU Referendum,” the spokeswoman said.
“An important part of the Commission’s remit is to investigate whether any offences have been committed in breach of the UK’s political finance rules. In carrying out that work, evidence may come from parties and campaigners, our own activities, other regulators or elsewhere. The outcome of our investigations will be published in accordance with our Enforcement Policy.”
She added, crucially: “On your queries around the referendum, the time period in which the result could be challenged has long passed so it would be up to the UK Parliament now if it wished to reconsider the referendum outcome.”
So, if Brexit is going to be delayed – or even stopped – because of these scandals, the pressure will have to come from pro-Remain MPs like David Lammy, Chuka Umunna and Ken Clarke. At the minute, however, Theresa May’s government and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party both seem committed to following through with the referendum result, meaning our withdrawal from the EU still seems likely.
But not everyone has given up hope – and maybe we shouldn’t either.
The pro-EU pressure group Best for Britain, founded by campaigner Gina Miller, thinks there could be cause for a second vote if the Cambridge Analytica and Vote Leave funding allegations are proven.
That group’s CEO, Eloise Todd, told ShortList: “Cambridge Analytica has a tawdry history and have left a trail of destruction behind them in election after election. Our Prime Minister needs to make sure that none of these practices occurred here in the UK - it’s vital we can all have faith in our democratic processes.
“If scandals are proven, we need to have another vote. People cannot be lied to.”