BeLeave it or not…
Vote Leave inquiry, Issue 1458
HE’S A BELEAVER: Darren Grimes, who is now the deputy editor of the Brexit Central website
MORE on Darren Grimes, the young Vote Leave volunteer who received a mysterious £675,000 funding windfall late in the EU referendum campaign – a story broken by the Eye in August 2016.

The Electoral Commission launched a new investigation last week into links between Vote Leave and Grimes, as well as Veterans for Britain. The commission is looking at whether there was collusion between the three on getting around spending limits: Vote Leave’s financial return showed that it went right to the edge, spending £6.8m of a permitted £7m.

Eye 1424 revealed the strange story of Grimes, a 22-year-old fashion student who initially reported receiving £675,000 in cash during the last eight days of the campaign – £50,000 from Vote Leave donor Anthony Clarke, the remaining £625,000 from the Vote Leave campaign itself. Grimes was eligible to spend a maximum of £700,000. He claimed it was mostly spent on his BeLeave campaign to woo voters aged under 25 – the same under-25s who voted in droves to Remain.

Curiouser and curiouser
“BeLeave received donations in a standard legal way,” Grimes told the Eye at the time, “and have reported them according to the rules.” According to the Electoral Commission, however, the cash went to Grimes, not his BeLeave outfit, and was recorded only because the donors declared it.

Since then, the whole affair has seemed curiouser and curiouser. Grimes has clarified to the Electoral Commission that in fact he never received any of that sum in cash – despite having declared it as a cash donation, which he now says was a misunderstanding. As BuzzFeed first reported, in that final week of the campaign, Grimes spent £675,000 with small Canadian online advertising firm AggregateIQ – the same company on which Vote Leave spent 40 percent of its £6.8m. Vote Leave also donated £100,000 to Veterans for Britain, which then spent this amount on AggregateIQ.

When one of Lord Gnome’s minions caught up with Grimes in October 2016, he enthused about how “targeted online advertising is the future!” It now transpires that “Grimes’s” payments to AggregateIQ were made directly by Vote Leave and Anthony Clarke, and never went through his account at all. Grimes told the Electoral Commission: "Vote Leave did not buy advertising services to gift to BeLeave but discharged BeLeave’s debt to AIQ by a transfer of cash at our request.” He strongly denies any collusion with Vote Leave on the content of the spending, or that his spending should count as Vote Leave spending. Darren now works as deputy editor of Brexit Central, a website founded by Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott.

Having previously ruled that an investigation was “not in the public interest”, the Electoral Commission denied that its U-turn last week had anything to do with a legal challenge fronted by Jolyon Maugham QC. But documents later released by the commission revealed that the lawsuit was indeed a factor, and that the commission had asked Maugham’s group, the Good Law Project, to drop its proceedings in return for the reopening of the investigation.

When the Eye first approached Grimes in July 2016, he blithely assured us that “all will be declared and made transparent through the Electoral Commission”. Sixteen months on, we’re still waiting.

More top stories in the latest issue:

Chancellor finds £3bn to prepare for Brexit by robbing Peter to pay… er, Peter.

A BBC hackette is reduced to reading out drivel from the Mail about Meghan Markle to fill live airtime after the royal engagement is made public.

Christmas is coming… so social media ‘influencers’ like Zoella are queuing up to flog branded tat to their fans via YouTube.

Alan Kentish, former business associate of Arron Banks, is invited in for a chinwag by Gibraltar police.

An NHS event for grieving families gets off to a bad start when it is held in the Ashes suite at the Oval cricket ground.

A legal appointment in Washington by the Trump administration sends worrying signals about the US’s attitude to torture.

While Robert Mugabe’s reign was ending in Zimbabwe, it was business as usual for his mining minister at the African Diamond Conference in Brussels.

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In This Issue private eye
That Harry-Meghan Wedding Ceremony: What You Will See… How the Chancellor’s Budget Jokes Will Affect You… New from Labour – the John McDonnell iou-Pad… Zimbabwe Rejoices At Choice of Mass Murderer to Replace the Last One… ‘Millions More’ Now Favour Brexit, Say Paris and Amsterdam… World of Cricket: England Win the Bashes!... Does John Humphrys Really Work? By Walter Diviner… Missing Explorer Finds Lost Publicity… Gordon Brown’s Diary, as told to Craig Brown

And also...

- Royal Wedding Special: Fleet Street’s mystic mugs and more
- Legatum latest:
Pro-Brexit think tank writes the script for Gove and Johnson
- Philip Shammond:
The chancellor robs Peter… to pay Peter!

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Private Eye Issue 1457