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Study shows criticism of EU referendum campaigning rules

poll card

Rules on campaign spending in the run-up to the EU referendum left just under half of campaigners feeling the process was unfair, according to research by Professor Justin Fisher.

According to a study carried out on behalf of the independent elections watchdog The Electoral Commission, 42 per cent of campaigners surveyed criticised the rules for permitted participants on campaign expenditure.

Among the biggest critics of the system were Leave campaigners and medium or large campaign groups.

The research suggested that the disquiet was in part related to the booklet Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK, which was distributed just before the controlled campaign period, with many labelling the publication propaganda.

Professor Fisher, Head of the Department of Politics, History and the Brunel Law School and Director of the Magna Carta Institute at Brunel University London, was commissioned by The Electoral Commission as an independent evaluator, and his findings are included in the Commission’s report on the administration of the referendum. 

He said: “Many aspects of the referendum went very well, but the scale of the EU referendum certainly proved to be a challenge for some aspect of the rules that were introduced some fifteen years ago.”

Among Prof Fisher's other conclusions were that campaigners with experience of previous campaigns had a significant advantage in understanding compliance of the rules, and that the large number of campaigners registering to participate had posed a problem when enforcing spending limits.

All campaigners who wanted to spend more than £10,000 campaigning in the EU referendum were required to register with the Electoral Commission.

Prof Fisher’s report Research among permitted participants at the EU Referendum can be found at under the section Candidates, Agents and Campaigners, where he also reports on a study into the attitudes of electoral agents on the 2015 General Election.