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Sat 17 August 2019
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Shahmir Sanni co-founded BeLeave, an offshoot of the Vote Leave campaign, during the EU Referendum. He turned whistleblower last year when he exposed its law-breaking. Here he reveals how two of the contenders to replace Theresa May cannot absolve themselves of responsibility.


Boris Johnson and Michael Gove lied when they campaigned for Vote Leave. Fact.

Gove was the leader of the campaign committee for Vote Leave. Fact.

Johnson and Gove’s current and former advisors were heading the Vote Leave campaign. Fact.

The former senior advisor to Michael Gove was Dominic Cummings himself. Fact.

Both Johnson and Gove denied that what Vote Leave did was illegal. Fact.

Vote Leave was found guilty of breaking electoral law and even dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission verdict. Fact.


Boris Johnson was a key figurehead for the Vote Leave campaign. He was inextricably linked to every strategic decision that the group’s campaign director, Dominic Cummings, and his advisers were making – not just because he was attending campaign meetings almost every week, but because they weren’t just colleagues, they are all close friends.

I myself spent an evening in Dominic Cummings’ house, celebrating with all of his closest friends, who just happened to be most of the people working on the campaign (Vote Leave’s chief executive Matthew Elliot was not invited because of tensions between the two).

When I came forward as a whistleblower on 24 March last year, Boris Johnson tweeted this:

Like Johnson, Michael Gove was a key figurehead of the illegal campaign. He told Sky News that he did not know about the largest political donation made by the campaign.

Except, not only was Gove a spokesman for Vote Leave, he was also the co-convener of its campaign committee, which was responsible (as stated on Vote Leave’s website) for overseeing the strategic decisions taken every week.


Darren Grimes, my co-founder of the youth group BeLeave, attended these meetings a few times too along with Cleo Watson and Stephen Parkinson – both currently senior political advisers to Theresa May.

BeLeave and other outreach groups were an integral part of Vote Leave’s strategy to secure the Brexit vote, as was consulting firm Cambridge Analytica – specialising in using data in elections – and its Canadian offshoot Aggregate IQ (AIQ).

As someone who watched these meetings through the glass windows of the Vote Leave meeting room, I find it impossible that Michael Gove was not made aware of how much money was going to AIQ, or of the single largest political donation made during the Brexit referendum – £625,000 paid by Vote Leave to AIQ, supposedly on behalf of BeLeave.

Although the money was meant to be paid to BeLeave – as an apparently separate organisation – which would then pay AIQ, it was paid directly to AIQ. In essence, Vote Leave and BeLeave were the same organisation, with the disguise that they weren’t designed to ensure that spending limits were not exceeded.

We need men and women in power who put people before party and love before power.

I remember Gove coming down to Tynemouth to help a former friend Nick Varley run for MP in the area during the local elections. I remember Darren Grimes and I recorded him for Varley’s social media campaign. And I distinctly remember Gove congratulating Darren for the work that he had done at Vote Leave.

So why did Gove deny knowing anything about the donation? Why did he deny knowing anything about BeLeave?

How is it possible that the leader of strategic decisions at Vote Leave did not know about the single largest donation made to the Vote Leave campaign, and subsequently to BeLeave?

How is it possible that Michael Gove knew nothing when this picture from inside the Vote Leave office is everywhere on the internet? Standing behind him to the right is Darren Grimes who Matthew Elliot said “never came into the office” and “never worked for Vote Leave”.


These are serious allegations. And I do not make them lightly.

What we are witnessing in Britain is the Etonian status quo of Westminster at work; a centuries-old system reaffirming and reasserting the power of the British political system.

These men have lied to the British people, these men have manipulated the British people, and these men have brought democracy to a standstill – even partaking in the biggest electoral scandal in modern British history.

Why did Gove deny knowing anything about BeLeave?

When the public is falling prey to disinformation in dangerous ways it is the responsibility of journalists and the media to drag them back to the truth.

Britain needs leaders who have not been involved in illegal referendum campaigns. Britain needs leaders who are entirely devoted to the people they serve.

And we need men and women in power who put people before party and love before power.

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