Vote Leave cheating sparks police probe

Tainted? Boris Johnson was the main face of the Vote Leave campaign. © Getty

Should there be a second referendum? Yesterday, the Leave campaign was found to have breached spending rules. With Theresa May’s government in crisis, calls for another vote are mounting.

For MPs, the summer holidays are just days away. Yet the mood around Parliament could not be less joyous. Amid Britain’s never-ending heatwave, a dark cloud of rancour hangs over Westminster.

Yesterday, Vote Leave, the official campaign group in favour of Brexit, was fined £61,000 and referred to the police by the Electoral Commission after a probe found that it broke electoral law.

The commission said it exceeded its £7 million spending limit by funnelling £675,315 through a youth group called BeLeave.

Vote Leave called the report “wholly inaccurate”, adding that it was politically motivated.

According to a Supreme Court judgement in December 2016, the referendum was “advisory”, so a court cannot order it to be rerun. But that has not stopped calls from Remainers for the vote to be held again on the grounds that the Leave campaign cheated.

The turmoil that has followed Theresa May’s Chequers agreement has meant that some kind of second vote has never looked more likely.

On Sunday, Justine Greening became the first senior Conservative to publicly support the idea. Calling the plan “the worst of both worlds”, she argued that the decision should be taken “out of the hands of deadlocked politicians” and given back to the people.

May is being assailed from both sides. On Monday night, the government survived twice by only three votes on amendments to its Customs Bill after a backlash from pro-EU Tories who accused May of “caving in” to anti-EU MPs.

In a desperate attempt to avoid a Tory civil war, May attempted to initiate a vote on sending MPs on recess five days early.

Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted: “I don’t think in my 35 years as an MP that I have ever known such a truly unpleasant and deeply uncertain time in the House.”

But how would a second referendum work? If the last one was merely advisory, then surely this one would be too.

What would the question be? Would it be a three-way choice between May’s deal, no deal and Remain? Or a simple rerun?

And would it be a good idea?

Bregret

Bring it on, say some. Things have changed since June 2016. The first referendum never asked people what kind of Brexit they wanted. Given how controversial the negotiations are, that question now has to be asked. Politicians have failed to deliver a satisfactory plan. It’s time to ask the people again.

Get real, reply others. The next vote would be even more inconclusive. It is only being suggested by Remainers who are bitter about the original result. No one would ever agree on the parameters of the referendum. If Remain won, Leavers would demand a “best of three” vote. It would solve nothing and create yet more distrust and instability.

You Decide

  1. Should there be a second referendum on Brexit?
  2. Who would win?

Activities

  1. Write down how you would word the question and the options for a potential second referendum, bearing in mind the need for clarity and fairness.
  2. Get your teacher to choose the best answer to Activity 1. Then hold the referendum as a class. Are the results surprising? Discuss.

Some People Say...

“Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face.”

Hugh Grant

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Vote Leave has been fined for breaching spending rules during the 2016 Brexit referendum. The result of the referendum was 51.9% for Leave and 48.1% for Remain. The UK is due to officially leave the EU on March 29, 2019. However, since Theresa May unveiled her new plan, calls have grown for another referendum. These have been amplified by yesterday’s news about the Leave campaign.
What do we not know?
To what extent the extra money spent by Vote Leave really affected the vote. It is quite common for parties to break spending rules, as the Conservatives did in one constituency in the 2015 election. We also do not know whether there will ever be a second referendum, and if there is, how the question would be worded and who would campaign for which outcome.

Word Watch

Vote Leave
Vote Leave won the nomination ahead of Leave.EU, a more immigration-focused campaign run by UKIP donor Arron Banks. In recent months Leave.EU has come under fire for possible links with Russia.
£7 million spending limit
This was the limit for the official campaign, but individual parties could spend money on the campaign beforehand. In total, the Remain campaign’s spending far outstripped that of the Leave campaign.
BeLeave
The founder of BeLeave, Darren Grimes, has been fined £20,000 and referred to the police, along with Vote Leave’s David Halsall.
Advisory
This means that the government is not legally obliged to follow through on the referendum, although simply refusing to follow the vote would cause huge problems.
Chequers agreement
The new plan caused the resignations of top Brexiteers David Davis and Boris Johnson. The most controversial part of the plan states that the UK will “maintain a common rulebook for all goods” with the EU, including agricultural products, after Brexit.
Recess
The name given to MPs’ holidays.

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