Brexit campaigner launches fund to appeal against £20,000 fine

A Brexit activist fined £20,000 for breaching spending rules during the EU referendum campaign has launched a drive to raise funds to appeal against the Electoral Commission's judgment.

Darren Grimes insisted he was "completely innocent" of making false declarations in relation to a £680,000 donation to his BeLeave youth group from the main Vote Leave campaign.

He accused the Electoral Commission of acting out of "bias" against supporters of EU withdrawal and behaving as "political enforcers".

Mr Grimes, 24, was referred to the Metropolitan Police after the commission found last week that the massive donation should have been declared as part of Vote Leave's spending, because the two organisations were working jointly.

The commission found that the cash was spent with data firm Aggregate IQ, which had been working for Vote Leave on targeting online ads, in a "common plan" between the official campaign and Mr Grimes's group.

If declared, the sum would have taken Vote Leave - fronted by leading politicians including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove - over its £7 million spending limit.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove
Vote Leave was fronted by leading politicians including Michael Gove sand Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and its official David Halsall was also referred to police.

In a statement, Mr Grimes insisted the commission's judgment was "simply wrong and based on inaccurate assertions and a misunderstanding of the law".

He alleged he was "just the latest in a long line of Leave campaigners that the commission have issued trumped-up charges against" and that their finding resulted from "bias" against Brexiteers.

"I am not a rich person. I honestly don't know how I'm going to pay the maximum fine that they've unfairly slapped me with - despite saying there are 'substantial' matters in mitigation that they've decided to ignore," he said.

"But this isn't just about me. Most importantly, I don't want to let the commission get away with this.

"I believe the commission's conduct has been appalling. We depend on organisations like the commission to safeguard our democracy.

"How long before they start going after parties their senior figures dislike? How long until candidates they have a grudge against find themselves unfairly penalised? Politics relies on people to put their head above the parapet - who in their right mind would now?

"I believe their judgment against me was the result of bias - not the result of proper due process. I believe that, far from acting as guardians, they are acting as political enforcers.

"I think they are undermining our democracy, and I am asking for help to expose what they are doing and to stop them."

Less than an hour after announcing on Twitter his bid to raise £20,000 to fund his legal battle, Mr Grimes had received pledges totalling £10,000 on his page.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said its position on the case was unchanged from its judgment last week.

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