Electoral Commission Apologises For ‘Horrible’ Treatment of Brexit Campaigners

TOPSHOT - Brexit supporters wave Union flags as the time nears 11 O'Clock, in Parliament Square, venue for the Leave Means Leave Brexit Celebration in central London on January 31, 2020, the moment that the UK formally leaves the European Union. - Brexit supporters gathered outside parliament on Friday to …
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The recently installed chairman of the UK’s electoral commission has issued an apology to Brexit campaigners for the “horrible” treatment they received after the 2016 EU referendum.

In his first interview since taking the top job at the commission, John Pullinger said that Britain’s election watchdog must be “more human” and “do better” than its performance after Brexit.

“There are a number of lessons from the past that we really need to get our heads around. The first is to act quickly. Some of the investigations that I’ve heard the stories of have taken a very long time and that has a toll on people,” the electoral commission head told The Telegraph.

“It’s very worrying for them individually, it can be damaging for their reputations, and you need to take that into account.

“Another [lesson] I think, would be to treat people like people. I mean, it is a legal regulatory authority, but you can be robust, and be courteous at the same time and just be human about it and recognise that this process can be very concerning for people, and work with that.

“Some of the stories … you’ve seen that has had an emotional impact, and we need to think about that. And it can just feel like a byzantine bureaucracy … a lot of that is the artefact of the legislation. But we ought to try to do better,” Pullinger said.

The Electoral Commission, which was established in 2001 as a supposedly impartial arbiter of elections in the UK, has long been accused of having an institutional anti-Brexit bias.

This bias was highlighted by critics, who pointed to the fact that the allegations of criminal collusion by pro-Remain campaigners were not investigated despite the Commission being presented with a dossier of evidence from Priti Patel MP, now the Home Secretary.

In stark contrast, the Commission targeted Brexit campaigners such as Darren Grimes and Vote Leave’s Alan Halsall, both of whom lived under police investigation for years. The Metropolitan police finally dropped their investigations into the two men in May of last year.

The new head of the Commission said: “Darren Grimes is one that stands out,” adding: “I’ve looked very carefully at that… he had a horrible time.

“The Commission has apologised for what happened to him and I take this opportunity to apologise again. What happened to him should not have happened.”

“It’s very worrying for them individually, it can be damaging for their reputations, and you need to take that into account.

Mr Grimes denied that the Commission has previously apologised to him, writing on social media: “The new Chairman of the [Electoral Commission] has apologised to me, through the pages of the Telegraph, nobody at the Electoral Commission has apologised to me personally. Actually, all of those unable to understand the law they’re there to protect are still employed by the taxpayer.”

In 2019, the Electoral Commission had to write off its taxpayer-funded legal expenses as well as the expenses incurred by Mr Grimes — which he was forced to resort to crowdfunding to pay — after a court overturned the maximum individual fine of £20,000 that the Commission had wrongly imposed on him over allegations of a spending limitations breach.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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