After a recent finding by the Electoral Commission that the Vote Leave campaign had overspent due to claims it had funneled money through a pro-Brexit youth group, BeLeave, a move which Vote Leave described as inaccurate and politically motivated, a closer look is being taken at some other lobbying groups which have provoked the ire of remain campaigners.
According to Matt Broomfield at The New Statesman, Vapers For Britain is one of a number of outreach groups backed by Vote Leave who’s actions are said to be a threat to the democratic process. It is suggested in the article that although not breaching any laws, their lack of clarity regarding connections to other Brexit campaigns was “disingenuous”;
These outreach groups were operated by real individuals who genuinely supported the Brexit campaign. But their failure to adequately disclose their ties to Vote Leave and the Conservative Party, and the fact these groups were then used by Brexit campaigners as evidence of grassroots support for the Leave campaign, means their actions were disingenuous at best.
Vote Leave has now been referred to the police, but the social media activity of some of these groups illustrates a subtler threat to our democratic process than the outright flouting of electoral law the Commission described. This is because they are real-world political activists coordinating to present themselves as spontaneous grassroots campaigners.
While worries concerning underhand practices of any lobby group and ensuring they follow the letter of the law in relation to funding and campaigning are understandable, it is hard to see how much effect these minor groups could have on people’s decisions when you take into account their small membership and audience.
Vapers for Britain, for example, has a mere 220 followers and Out & Proud, another group accused of disingenuous practices, has 941. With the claim being that Vote Leave funneled money into these other groups for the sake of underhandedly making the Brexit grassroots campaign seem bigger than it is, is hard to justify when the Vote Leave campaign itself has over 58,000 followers on Twitter. When considering that the total votes in favour of leave were over 17 million, surely their influence can hardly be seen as anything but insignificant.