Latest: April 16, 2019
Public inquiry calls redouble as our JR permission hearing approaches
With your support, Fair Vote has demanded a public inquiry into wrongdoing in the EU Referendum and taken forward a legal challenge to Theresa May’s refusal to establish one. At present, we a...Read more
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
We now know – beyond a reasonable doubt – the EU Referendum was rife with illegal activity and cheating. We cannot stand idly by while our democracy is being attacked. If you rob a bank and get caught, they don't let you keep the money.
We ‘the people’ cannot be expected to accept as legitimate the decisions reached by the executive and Parliament on the basis of an advisory referendum if that referendum was subject to serious and intentional breaches of the law, aimed at procuring a particular result. The time to act is now.
Central to our democracy is that elections are free and fair. There are strict limits on how much each campaigning group can spend and publicly available records of who spent what. These rules apply both to elections for political office and to referendums.
The Electoral Commission has the task of enforcing these rules at the first instance. It has found that the official campaign for leaving the EU, Vote Leave, improperly channelled £675,315 through the tech firm AggregateIQ to get around election spending laws. This firm used Facebook profiling to target individuals with specific messages. According to evidence heard by the House of Commons Committee in March 2018 the profiles were built without the consent or knowledge of UK voters. The amount of money improperly spent would have enabled hundreds of millions of Facebook advertisements to be posted. The result of the EU Referendum was certainly influenced by this.
The Electoral Commission has similarly found that another Leave campaign, Leave.EU – fronted by Arron Banks - also committed offences.
Additionally, it appears involvement of Russian state actors were promoting content that would influence UK voters. 260 anti EU stories prepared by Kremlin-backed media were shared 134 million times online, according to research put together by 89up – a communication and social medical analytics company.
DO WE REALLY KNOW THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE?
The “will of the people” is a phrase that is often repeated to explain the chaos we find ourselves in. Since it is now clear that the referendum result was procured on the basis of criminal offences as found by the Electoral Commission, what the will of the people truly is has got to be questioned.
WHAT DO WE WANT TO DO?
Fair Vote is taking legal action to demand truth and accountability about the Referendum. We are challenging the Government decision not to hold a full public inquiry into the Referendum. We now know that the designated campaign body Vote Leave cheated and overspent by a huge amount; that there were suspicious and opaque donors to the Leave campaign; that Russia is implicated in social media campaigns intended to sway the vote and that foreign data companies using questionable tactics were deeply involved along with senior politicians and political advisors in the UK. All this has led to such significant public concern that only a Public Inquiry headed by a judge with formal powers to compel witnesses can find out what truly happened. The UK urgently needs its own Mueller investigation. Please help us to fund this urgent and important legal challenge.
THIS IS BIGGER THAN BREXIT:
It is vital that all our votes and especially those with fundamental constitutional implications, such as the EU referendum, are conducted freely and fairly if ‘the people’ are to respect the democratic process. It is a legitimate and necessary part of our democracy that the courts are able and willing to consider the legality of the process and we believe that they will be willing to do so as guardians of the common law.
WHO AM I?
I am Kyle Taylor, the director of Fair Vote UK. I believe it is vitally important that we - at this moment - fight with everything we can to defend our democratic systems and rule of law. We cannot let cheaters and law-breakers get away with undermining our very way of life.
WHO IS FAIR VOTE UK?
Fair Vote UK is a democracy and transparency organisation set up in the wake of revelations that Vote Leave cheated in the referendum.
April 16, 2019
Public inquiry calls redouble as our JR permission hearing approaches
With your support, Fair Vote has demanded a public inquiry into wrongdoing in the EU Referendum and taken forward a legal challenge to Theresa May’s refusal to establish one. At present, we are awaiting a new date for the Court to hear our arguments for permission to be granted. We will report as soon as the date is set. Meanwhile, a preview of we will say can be found in our ‘skeleton argument’, published here for the first time.
We are not alone! Parliament’s cross-party Digital Media Culture and Sport Committee recognised the need for an inquiry in its final ‘fake news’ report (see e.g. paragraph 248). A petition has attracted over 33,000 signatures. The Times reports that diplomats, business figures, peers and MPs now recognise the urgent need for a public inquiry too. The Guardian even reports rumours that civil servants are preparing for one.
This is all good news, but the Prime Minister is not listening and, until she does, we must fight on. Please do consider making a further donation now so we can take the case forward at the permission hearing and beyond.
Precisely what could an inquiry grapple with? The eight answers we will give the Court are straightforward, clear and principled:
- Russian interference in the EU Referendum
- This is a real and pressing concern which is simply not being investigated. In its February 2019 report Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report the DCMS Committee said “the Government has been very ready to accept the evidence of Russian activity in the Skripal case, an acceptance justified by the evidence. However, it is reluctant to accept evidence of interference in the 2016 Referendum in the UK. If the Government wishes the public to treat its statements on these important matters of national security and democracy seriously, it must report the position impartially, uninfluenced by the political implications of any such report”.
- We agree – and we demand action – this issue is too important to ignore.
- The involvement of foreign-based companies (especially political strategy and data analytics companies) in the EU Referendum campaign
- There is substantial evidence that shady, foreign companies supplied services to the designated Leave campaign and other campaigners during the EU Referendum campaign. These include, among others: AIQ, a Canadian data analytics company and an associated company, SCL, which have worked on election campaigns around the world involving serious unlawful and deeply unethical practices; Cambridge Analytica, a company that has been linked to Leave.EU, whose disgraced CEO Alexander Nix was caught by secret filming boasting about the company’s immoral activities abroad; and Goddard Gunster, a political public relations firm in Washington, which has been questioned, but refused to provide information to the Electoral Commission.
- We cannot allow their activities to go unexamined.
- Issues of truthfulness during the EU Referendum campaign
- In June 2016 and June 2018 the Electoral Commission recognised that the truthfulness of certain campaign arguments, including from politicians, was a huge concern. We all know that the “£350 million a week to the NHS” promise was false but no one has been formally held to account for that dishonesty because our laws are lacking. We are now 1000 days since the referendum and no one has been tasked with investigating what lies and misinformation were spread, by whom, with what financial backing and to what effect.
- For the sake of our democracy this issue must be looked into.
- The lack of effective sanctions and accountability for overspending in the context of the EU Referendum
- Our current electoral law is not fit for the digital age and this was recognised by the Electoral Commission in March 2017 when it called for a review of the sanction limit, which currently stands at £20,000. This is pocket money for the likes of Arron Banks and, alarmingly, in June 2018 the Electoral Commission referred to the sanction as being “a cost of doing business” for some campaigners.
- We know that the limit is too low but we do not yet know whether or how this affected the EU Referendum campaign and unless there is a public inquiry we will never find out.
- The scale of campaign donations in the EU Referendum
- In its July 2018 interim report the DCMS Committee noted that Arron Banks is believed to have been responsible for £8.4 million of the Leave campaign’s funding, the largest political donation in British politics. There are other large donations which are of concern such as a donation of £435,000 made to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council, an unincorporated funding organisation based in Scotland whose Chair, Richard Cook, has refused to reveal the source. Donations of such a scale are contrary to our British values and democracy.
- It is vital that the implications are investigated and understood.
- The source of funds used by certain campaigners in the EU Referendum
- Whilst Arron Banks is believed to have made the largest donation in British political history, in its July 2018 report the DCMS Committee noted that it was unclear where those funds came from. In its February 2019 report, the DCMS Committee said that “questions still remain over both the sources of that donation and the extent of Mr Banks’ wealth”, and with regard to Banks and his side-kick Andy Wigmore they said “Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore showed complete disregard and disdain for the parliamentary process when they appeared before us in June 2018. It is now evident that they gave misleading evidence to us, too, about the working relationship between Eldon Insurance and Leave.EU. They are individuals, clearly, who have less than a passing regard for the truth”. Since then Channel 4 News has revealed further evidence of Banks’ links with Russian gold companies.
- We need a public inquiry which could compel Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore to provide documents and give evidence so we can finally get to the truth.
- The anomalous rules relating to Northern Ireland have created gaps which may have been exploited during the EU Referendum campaign
- Open Democracy has revealed that the DUP took out a full page advert in the Metro – which does not circulate in Northern Ireland – advocating leave and that advert was paid for by Richard Cook of the Scottish-based Constitutional Research Council. This suggests coordination between the two entities. Special rules were put in place due to security concerns during the Troubles which meant that donation and loan reports remain confidential. There had been a plan to apply retrospective transparency so all donations from January 2014 would be declared. However, those plans were delayed so the new rules only apply from July 2017 onwards – meaning they do not encompass the EU Referendum campaign.
- We need a public inquiry to examine whether the special rules were exploited and to what effect.
- Psychographic targeting in political campaigns and the lack of oversight of these new methods of political campaigning
- Sophisticated new methods were used to target voters in the EU Referendum campaign, many of which have since been shown to be unethical and contrary to data protection legislation. The Information Commissioner has looked into this issue to the extent that the profiling and targeting was in breach of data protection rights and action has been taken against a number of entities. However, there is still work to do.
- It is vital that an assessment is conducted of the effects of psychographic targeting during the EU Referendum Campaign, and an analysis to identify gaps in the regulation of online political advertising to ensure that we do not suffer from the same harms again.
We are extremely grateful for your support and we welcome further donations which will enable us to press on lay the groundwork for the next stages of the case.
Jan. 25, 2019
10 reasons why a public inquiry is the only way forward
We urgently need to raise £35,000 to take the case for a public inquiry into the referendum campaign to the next stage – an oral permission hearing at which our lawyers make the case for permission to proceed direct to a judge and explain why the written refusal of permission was wrong.
Overnight we’ve raised £7500 in response to our urgent appeal, which is fantastic. Thank you to everyone who’s donated so far. Over the weekend we very much hope we can raise the remaining £30,000 needed to move forward at this critical stage.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there are 10 powerful reasons why only a public inquiry can get to the bottom of wrongdoing in the EU Referendum and help change the law so it will never happen again:
Only an inquiry could reach comprehensive, robust, independent, evidence-based conclusions about what really happened in the EU Referendum – including involvement of individuals, companies and donors abroad and exploitation of loopholes in electoral law - to ensure the truth is known, lessons are learned for the future, and public confidence is restored.
Only an inquiry would allow the UK to take the lead on investigating issues of Russian interference in the EU Referendum (avoiding the lead investigation by default being Robert Mueller’s examination of the role of Russian influence in the US elections). There is no Police, National Crime Agency or any other form of investigation happening at present that can compel Russia to publicly explain its actions. The need for accountability of this kind was why an inquiry had to be ordered by Teresa May herself into Alexander Litvinenko’s killing. That happened because Marina Litvinenko won a judicial review challenging Mrs May’s refusal to establish one.
Only an inquiry would be in a position make factual findings on evidence other bodies – such as the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner - have been unable to secure because of the limits on their jurisdiction. An inquiry would allow for a form of accountability for wrongs that are not currently crimes or regulatory offences (or which may be, but cannot practically be prosecuted).
Inquiries can require witness attendance, cross-examination and the production of documents. The unwillingness of individuals – like Dominic Cummings - and organisations – like Facebook- to co-operate with investigations to date can be overcome using these special investigatory powers which other bodies lack.
Only an inquiry will be able to do these things publicly. There would be clear transparency benefits. As well as having a narrow focus on commission of offences, Police, National Crime Agency and Electoral investigations are inevitably be conducted in private. By contrast, an inquiry allows core participants to engage in the Inquiry and, where permitted by the Chair, to cross-examine witnesses in public and to examine documents, and for the media to report fully on the steps taken in the investigation.
The process of the inquiry and action on its recommendations for changes in the law could help address the threat to democracy and restore trust and confidence in the machinery needed to guard against it, especially because of its functional independence.
That functional independence could address concerns about the role of senior public figures. For instance, a number of senior politicians, including those who sat on the Vote Leave Board and/or the Vote Leave Campaign Committee. To date, only Mr Cummings has been asked about his role and he flatly refused to be questioned about it publicly (by the DCMS Committee). Only an inquiry will be able to put questions to them and require answers.
An inquiry would not be starting from scratch. It would draw on the expertise of the Electoral Commissioner and Information Commissioner and build on the evidence gathering those bodies have undertaken so far along with that of the DCMS Committee.
An inquiry would be able to draw lessons from events and prevent events from re-occurring by making recommendations, including for law reform. The recommendations already made by the Electoral Commission, Information Commissioner and DCMS Committee could be considered and endorsed if appropriate, but the main purpose of the inquiry would be to make evidence-based recommendations based on its own investigation, not to duplicate the work of others.
Inquiries are powerful things. Bringing the truth to light publicly can facilitate catharsis and assist in improving and rebuilding public confidence in the integrity of democratic processes and healing divisions (including those arising from one country having interfered in the domestic affairs and democratic processed of another country). An inquiry would allow an acknowledgement of what went wrong and ensure that the record is set straight. And if information about the commission of crimes came to light as a result of an inquiry, this could be separately dealt with by the police prosecutors – as happened after the phone hacking inquiry.
Only an inquiry will do!
Jan. 24, 2019
Down but not out -- help us fight on
Thank you all for your support of our judicial review challenging the Prime Minister’s refusal to order a searching public inquiry into the wrongdoing in the EU Referendum campaign.
We have unfortunately been refused - in writing - permission to take the case to trial. The decision is hard to understand. The judge relies on a decision made in another case, Wilson, which has a very different target. The Wilson case has nothing to do with the public inquiry we say is needed, as explained in this submission from our lawyers. Their main submission on why our case should proceed is here.
The written refusal of permission does not mean our fight is at an end. There is another stage to the permission process that we want to pursue, an oral permission hearing before a different judge. But to take that step, we urgently need to raise another £35,000 BY MONDAY - partly to pay our own lawyers for their work for the hearing, partly to guard against the risk of us having to pay the Government's costs. The urgency arises because of the Court timetable. Tuesday is the deadline for us to notify the Court that we want the case to proceed to a permission hearing.
It is reasonably common for cases to be refused written permission and then be granted permission at an oral hearing. Our legal team is confident they can make the case for permission at a hearing if given the opportunity. And we believe in them - they’re some of the finest public lawyers in the country. The issues at stake - the protection of our democratic institutions - are too serious not to try.
Our legal team has done lots of work for which they have so far not been paid and there is much more to do to prepare for the hearing. We have also been ordered by the Judge to pay almost £20,000 to the Government for its costs so far.
Please help us ensure money isn’t the reason we cannot pursue justice. Fair Vote is run by a team of volunteers. We’re not in this for fame or fortune. We’re simply trying to do the right thing and fight for what’s right, true, and fair.
Your £25 could be the difference that allows us to go forward with this case. We believe in this claim and we want to see it through for the good of our country.
Thank you for your support thus far. We will provide more updates as they come.
Dec. 22, 2018
Where we are: our case for a public inquiry forges ahead
I wanted to update you on our legal challenge to the Prime Minister’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into irregular and unlawful conduct during the EU referendum.
Our judicial review application has been submitted and a judge will soon be considering whether to grant permission for our case to go to the next stage: a full judicial review hearing where we will get to set out our case in full.
Our legal team, including leading public law barrister, Michael Fordham QC has set out a compelling case as to why it is unlawful for the Prime Minister’s not to properly consider holding a public inquiry. The Prime Minister’s approach so far has been to evade our reasonable questions and raise procedural arguments to avoid dealing with the substance of our case. We are confident the Court will see the force in our arguments and will allow our case to proceed so that these issues, which are of such importance to us all, can be properly argued in Court.
As the Government forges on with attempting to secure a Brexit deal amongst ever increasing gridlock and vitriol in Parliament, more voices are questioning how our democratic processes can be trusted until there is a proper investigation into the implications of the cheating and overspending which so compromised the EU Referendum.
We know that an inquiry now cannot change the referendum result but we need to show that cheating is not welcome in our democracy. We want an inquiry to properly and publicly consider what went wrong, to identify lessons for the future and to hold those responsible to account. Without this, what is to stop others from similarly corrupting our democratic process in the future?
Our legal arguments are sound and we have good prospects of taking our case to the next stage. We need you to share our case with everyone you know and keep up the fight to demand justice and fairness in our democratic processes.
Oct. 30, 2018
We're more than halfway to our goal!
We've reached £50k on our crowdfunder. That means we're more than halfway to fully funding our judicial review for a public inquiry.
The government has still not responded to our pre-action letter and they are clearly not taking the threats to our democracy seriously. A public inquiry could give us the answers and path forward to safeguarding our democracy.
Oct. 15, 2018
UK Police will not investigate Russian interference in to the Brexit referendum
Over the weekend, Scotland Yard announced they will not be conducting an investigation into claims that Russia may have influenced the outcome of the EU referendum or that other foreign- entities could have played a role according to a letter they sent to Fair Vote UK’s legal team in the wake of our call for a public inquiry.
The Government so far has refused to hold an inquiry on the grounds that this was a matter for the Police, who have now confirmed that they do not intend to hold any such investigation in a letter to Fair Vote UK.
According to their letter, the Metropolitan Police will not investigate the following matters:
Russian interference in the referendum campaign. “International bodies and states cannot commit criminal offences” under electoral legislation;
The involvement of foreign-based companies, including political strategy and data analytics companies;
Truthfulness during the campaign. “This is not a criminal offence per se and therefore not a police matter,” the letter says;
The scale of campaign donations in 2016.
Fair Vote UK’s call for an inquiry has gathered supported from several MPs, namely Conservative MP and chair of the DCMS committee Damian Collins MP and Deputy Leader of the Labour party Tom Watson MP.
Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said: “The Police saying that they will not investigate Russian state interference shows exactly why we desperately need a Mueller-style inquiry if we are ever going to ensure our democracy is fit for purpose. It’s clear no bodies are taking up the vital work of investigating what happened and ensuring it never happens again. A public inquiry is an absolute necessity if we believe in safeguarding our democracy and the government’s refusal to act is a disgrace.”
Oct. 9, 2018
Hillary Clinton Joins Calls for Public Inquiry Into EU Referendum
Hillary Clinton has joined Damian Collins MP and Tom Watson MP in calling for an inquiry into misconduct during the Brexit referendum, saying that democracy is in crisis and that the Conservative party is failing democracy.
Hillary Clinton has joined an ever increasing chorus of voices calling for an urgent inquiry into what on earth happened during the Brexit referendum. Clinton rightly sees the failure of our Government to conduct an investigation into what happened as a total abdication of their responsibility as protectors of and believers in democracy.
Please keep sharing our Crowd Justice page and the pre claim letter sent to the government by Bindmans LLP outlining the case for a public inquiry. Thank you so much for your continued support!
Sept. 24, 2018
We are challenging the Government decision not to hold a full public inquiry.
Fair Vote and Bindmans LLP challenge Theresa May's decision not to hold a full public inquiry into the EU referendum.
Fair Vote is a campaigning NGO formed to press for accountability and reform in the light of revelations about the undermining of democratic processes during the EU Referendum campaign. Some of this involved law-breaking on a massive scale; some of it was completely lawful, but deeply unethical and undemocratic; some of it is borderline. Much of it involved foreign companies and there is also compelling evidence of interference by Russia.
On 5 July 2018, Fair Vote wrote to the Prime Minister asking for these matters to be investigated bearing in mind the “need to maintain the people’s faith in our democracy” and later pressed for that to happen in the open at a public inquiry that would have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence and demand documents. This is currently the only way for the UK to have its equivalent of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the way democracy was undermined during the US Presidential Election.
However, the Prime Minister flatly refused an inquiry on 3 August 2018, saying that Parliament had given the Electoral Commission and Police all the necessary power to address public concern about the EU Referendum and that everything was “being dealt with” satisfactorily. This is legally wrong. Neither the Commission nor the Police have the powers of an inquiry. Their investigations are also limited. They can only investigate breaches of the law as it stands (and the law is out of date). The National Crime Agency has told MPs it is not investigating. And there are compelling reasons why an investigation into what happened and its consequences is necessary that the Prime Minister’s decision does not confront.
Supported by Bindmans LLP solicitors, Fair Vote is now ready to challenge the Prime Minister’s refusal. Bindmans have sent a 49 page letter before action which painstakingly explains how public concern has arisen and why only an inquiry can adequately address it. If the Prime Minister maintains her stance, Fair Vote is prepared to challenge her refusal in the courts through judicial review and is crowdfunding to make this possible.
Sept. 23, 2018
New letter being sent to the Government
On Monday, we will be sending a new letter to the Government setting out why the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry is not lawful. A copy of this letter will be available to read after Monday.
Aug. 15, 2018
Government Response Received
Now’s the time for a public inquiry into Brexit cheating: let’s overturn Mrs May’s refusal
Theresa May’s lawyers have now responded on her behalf to our letter, refusing each of our requests. We have decided to focus our energies on argument 1 – our demand for a full public inquiry – and to take legal action on this issue. This will put crucial pressure on the government.
If successful, our demand for a full public inquiry would produce real and lasting benefits for our democracy, including how it responds to questions of EU membership in future, including in a second referendum. Further, if the timeline for the Brexit processes were to change – which is possible –the outcome of a public inquiry into Brexit cheating could be of vital importance for our MPs voting on Brexit-related proposals in Parliament.
Put simply, we cannot allow any further votes without changing the rules to make sure they’re free and fair.
We also believe the reasons for a public inquiry into cheating in the Brexit Referendum are compelling and there are no good reasons to refuse one. But in the letter of response sent by Theresa May’s lawyers on her behalf, she has point blank refused to order an inquiry. We cannot see why anyone who cares about democracy would refuse, given the many revelations of cheating, which continue to accumulate.
There are ongoing investigations and inquiries by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Electoral Commission and Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee. But the remit and powers of each of these bodies is limited.
A case in point is the refusal of certain witnesses and persons of interest to cooperate and appear to give evidence: Aaron Banks - reportedly, the largest individual donor in UK political history - walked out midway through giving evidence to the DCMS Committee which has no power to compel witnesses. Last week there were further revelations in the Guardian about Mr Banks’ links with Russia. A public inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses, such as Mr Banks, whose evidence will be critical in exposing the extent of cheating that took place during the Brexit Referendum and how this manipulated our democratic process. We want to ensure that this can never happen again.
We have been able to adjust our initial target to £25,000 which will allow our legal team to do the next phase of preparatory work – which is setting out strong arguments on the need for a full public inquiry to the Government’s lawyers. So to confirm, your cards will be charged when we hit our new initial target of £25,000. Crucially, hitting this target will mean we can proceed immediately to the next phase.
However, we still need you help to get to our goal of £50,000 for the subsequent stage in order that we can issue our case in court. Please continue to share this case on Twitter and Facebook and email your friends and family letting them know how important this case is!
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