The Electoral Commission has announced that Vote Leave has been designated as the official lead campaign urging Britain to leave the European Union in the run-up to the June referendum.
The decision will allow the group to spend up to £7m it has raised itself, and it will also be given £600,000 of taxpayers’ money to spend on the administration costs of running a campaign.
It will also be able to send one leaflet to every home in Britain – although the government has infuriated Brexit campaigners by sending its own publicly funded leaflet already.
Vote Leave, which has the support of cabinet ministers and prominent Conservatives including Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Chris Grayling, and is chaired by the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, had been widely expected to be anointed as the lead group.
Claire Bassett, chief executive of the Electoral Commission, said: “After careful consideration, the commission decided that Vote Leave Ltd better demonstrated that it has the structures in place to ensure the views of other campaigners are represented in the delivery of its campaign.”
The rival group Grassroots Out, which involves the UK Independence party leader, Nigel Farage, had been expected to contest any decision to award the support to Vote Leave.
But its co-founder Peter Bone said: “We congratulate Vote Leave on securing designation and we thank our supporters for all the hard work they have put into the campaign so far.
“We look forward to working closely and productively with all those who want to see the UK set free to determine its own destiny. We are determined to play our part in creating a united front to secure victory on 23 June for Leave – Independence Day.”
A spokesman for Vote Leave said: “Our focus has always been the real campaign and the £350m we send to Brussels every week which we want to spend on our priorities like the NHS. We will continue to work constructively with everyone who wants to campaign for a Leave vote.”
Arron Banks, the founder and major funder of Leave.EU, one of the main groups behind Grassroots Out, said he planned to challenge the Electoral Commission’s decision, citing the fact that Steve Bell, the president of the National Conservative Convention, had tweeted the result the night before the official announcement.
Banks said this “smells of political corruption from our high-minded establishment and cannot be allowed to pass without challenge”. However, a Downing Street spokesman stressed that the date for the referendum has been set in law.
Nigel Farage, the key figurehead for Leave.EU, did not appear to be in combative mood after the decision was announced. He tweeted simply:
Political parties will still be able to run their own campaigns, separate from the designated, cross-party groupings. Farage added: “Ukip as the only national anti-EU political party and with a £4m spending limit will of course play a major role in this campaign. I have always wanted all on the leave side to come together and have done my best to try and make this happen.”
On the remain side, the Electoral Commission confirmed that Britain Stronger in Europe, the group that has been co-ordinating the campaigning activities of the prime minister, but also involves senior figures from the other major political parties, will be lead campaigner. Its application for the designation, which it submitted as “The In Campaign Ltd”, was uncontested.
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