234.The progress of the Committee’s inquiry was hampered by difficulties in securing the attendance of Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings from Vote Leave. First, Mr Elliott and Mr Cummings sought to attach conditions to their appearance before the Committee; in particular, they refused to sit on a panel alongside witnesses from Leave.eu, Arron Banks and Richard Tice. On the day he and Mr Cummings were due to appear, 20 April, Mr Elliott withdrew with less than thirty minutes’ notice, owing to an emergency. He refused two subsequent requests to attend, on the first citing a pre-arranged trip to see Swiss politicians and expatriates living in Switzerland, and on the second, a busy work schedule. As a result, the Committee was forced to summon Mr Elliott to appear before it on 10 May.
235.Vote Leave’s application to the Electoral Commission to be designated lead campaign group for ‘Leave’ states that “we intend to campaign in such a way that we will also create a valuable legacy for the UK’s democratic processes”.213 It goes on: we are conscious that playing a leading part in such an important moment in our national democracy is a very significant responsibility. If we are designated, we would undertake the task in this spirit, conscious of the gravity of the choice facing the British people, and clear about the limits of our remit as the designated Leave campaign”.214
Vote Leave’s success gives it, among other things, a grant of £600,000, a free mailshot to every household in the UK (worth around £9m), the free use of certain public rooms and the right to issue referendum broadcasts.215 The Committee may return to this issue after the referendum.
236.In their treatment of this Committee, neither Mr Elliott nor Mr Cummings, as individuals, have fulfilled Vote Leave’s commitment, made in their successful application to the Electoral Commission, to “create a valuable legacy for the UK’s democratic process”. Their conduct has been appalling. Mr Elliott’s and Mr Cummings’s expressed view that powers should be restored to Parliament sits ill with that conduct.
237.It was the Committee’s preference to hear from both Vote Leave and Leave.eu in one sitting. In the end, it took three. If Mr Elliott and Mr Cummings consider that the Committee’s evidence-taking process has been protracted, uncomfortable or harmful to their cause, they have only themselves to blame.
238.The Committee notes that Mr Banks and Mr Tice did not seek to attach conditions to their attendance.
239.The Committee’s inquiry was also unnecessarily impeded by the delay in the publication of part of the Treasury’s analysis of the economic impact of EU membership and Brexit. In evidence to the Committee on 24 March, the Chancellor undertook to publish this analysis at least four working days before his next appearance. On 18 April, the Treasury published work on the long-term economic consequences of Brexit. It also noted that a further analysis, on the short-term consequences of a vote to leave, would be published at a later date. The Committee obtained a further “reasonable assurance” from the Chancellor that this short-term analysis would be published long enough before the 28-day purdah period (commencing on 27 May) to enable the Committee to scrutinise and take evidence on it. This assurance was not met.
240.It is highly unsatisfactory that the Committee was unable to scrutinise the Government’s analysis of the short-term economic impact of Brexit in time to consider its findings in this Report. The delay in the Treasury’s publication is inconsistent with the commitment made to the Committee by the Chancellor. It is to be hoped that scrutiny and transparency have not in this case been subordinated to the imperatives of the Number 10 ‘media grid’.
213 Vote Leave, Application to register as a designated lead campaigner – referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, Section 2.1
214 Ibid, Section 3.1
215 See, for instance, Electoral Commission guidance on the designation process (EUR2), March 2016
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27 May 2016