London (AFP) – Britain’s elections watchdog named Wednesday the two lead campaigns for the EU referendum, a status that brings higher spending limits and public funds, leaving one disappointed organisation seeking legal advice.
The Electoral Commission decided against the campaign group backed by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and in favour of Vote Leave, the group supported by Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The Stronger in Europe group was granted lead status on the “Remain” side, which is supported by Prime Minister David Cameron, as the only organisation that had applied.
Farage, whose anti-immigration, anti-EU party had helped pressure Cameron into calling the referendum on June 23, was gracious in defeat, urging all campaigners for a so-called Brexit to join forces.
“We must work together to get our country out of the European Union,” he said.
However, his Leave.EU group, which is backed by UKIP donor Arron Banks, said it was consulting lawyers about a legal challenge — and warned that any action could delay the referendum.
“I am thoroughly unsatisfied with the Electoral Commission’s decision for a variety of reasons that I will be making clear in my application for judicial review,” Banks said in a statement.
“It is to be regretted that this process may put the referendum back until October but if we are to avoid the most important vote of our lives being rigged then I feel duty bound to take this course of action.”
Lead campaign status brings with it a spending limit of £7 million ($10 million, 8.7 million euros) for each side, significantly more than the £700,000 that other registered campaign groups can spend.
Each designated group will also be able to make referendum campaign broadcasts and is eligible for public funds of up to £600,000 for administrative costs and campaign material.
Political parties are also allowed to spend significant funds on the campaign, within limits calculated according to their share of the vote at the 2015 election.
Farage noted that UKIP had a spending limit of £4 million.
“Regardless of whichever campaign got the designation, UKIP would always have played a big role in this campaign as the only national party committed to leaving the EU,” he said in a statement.
The Conservative party would be eligible to spend even more than UKIP but it is deeply divided, with 128 lawmakers — or around a third of the party in parliament — backing the Vote Leave campaign.
The spending limit will apply from Friday, when the official campaign period begins.