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In March 2016, businessman and solicitor Alan Halsall was appointed by the Vote Leave board as the ‘responsible person’ – the individual legally responsible for the campaign. In the role – Mr Halsell who is listed on Companies House as one of three people with “significant control” of Vote Leave Ltd – would have the formal responsibility for reporting any donations, managing expenses and signing declarations to the Electoral Commission.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Halsall has given an insight into how the relentless campaigning by anti-Brexit supporters and legal challenges over spending by the Vote Leave campaign turned his world upside down.
Following the historic decision by 17.4 million Britons to leave the European Union, the Vote Leave campaign was embroiled in a huge controversy over allegations it had exceeded the £7 million cap on spending.
The media storm centred on a donation made by Vote Leave to another anti-EU campaign group which Mr Halsall claimed the Electoral Commission initially approved.
Reflecting upon the donation, the former co-chair of the pro-Brexit group Business for Britain, insisted this decision had “enormous personal repercussions”.
He said: “When we won the referendum, there was a short period of elation – but it soon became clear that some Remainers were determined to overturn the result.
“They saw an opportunity to attack Vote Leave, making allegations that we had made the donations as part of an organised campaign plan agreed with the recipients.
“If this had been true, we would have been in breach of our spending limit.”
In 2018, Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and reported to the police after the Electoral Commission found “significant evidence” of coordination with another campaign group, BeLeave.
The report said BeLeave founded by Brexiteer Darren Grimes spent more than £675,000 with the digital data company Aggregate IQ coordinated with Vote Leave.
Vote Leave paid the fine but denied wrongdoing, while Mr Grimes won an appeal against his £20,000 fine.
Two years later in May 2020, Metropolitan Police ended its investigation into the two campaigns, following allegations by the Electoral Commission.
Reflecting on the past few years, Mr Halsall said the ordeal had “severely affected my reputation” and insisted the smear against the Brexit campaign was to “make Vote Leave pay for winning the referendum”.
He said: “Finally, on the eve of VE Day, May 8 2020, the police confirmed I had no case to answer. My ordeal was over.
“It took nearly four years of constant worry and cost me thousands of pounds in lawyers’ fees. And, sadly, it severely affected my reputation.
“How did it all happen? You should draw your own conclusions, but I believe what happened to me was motivated by the desire to make Vote Leave pay for winning the referendum.
“There were people with money and power who believed that, if they could convince people we had overspent, they could overturn the result. I just happened to be in the firing line.
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“And what was the cost? For me, personally, it has been terrible. But perhaps you think I deserved it? Perhaps you didn’t approve of Vote Leave and what we hoped to achieve?
“If so, you are missing the point of the story. I am an honest, innocent man who volunteered to help in a campaign that went to the heart of the future of our country.”
The Met said it stopped pursuing the case after considering advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Following the initial ruling Mr Halsall said he was “delighted” that his “three year nightmare is over”, while Mr Grimes said he was “thrilled”.
A spokesman for the Commission said it was “right that potential electoral offences are properly investigated by the appropriate authority”.
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