The Cash Behind Brexit

Yesterday, the Electoral Commission released the official referendum donation figures for the period of 1st February to 22nd April 2016. The numbers made for an interesting read indeed – at face value it looks as though the Leave camp dominated the financial battle, but scratch the surface and a very different situation emerges.

Both campaigns received a combined total of £15.6 million in donations – for a bit of context, this is more than all political parties raised during the short campaign leading up to the 2015 general election combined. The headlines sung to the tune of ‘Brexit out-fundraise their Remain rivals’ as Leave groups’ donations hit £8.2 million, compared to the Remain camp who raised £7.5 million.

Initially this seems like a huge win for the Leave campaign, who have referred to their situation as a ‘David and Goliath’ allegory, but the bitter rivalries and in-fighting between the seven different Leave campaign groups meant that the officially designated campaign group Vote Leave received a significantly lower amount of donations in comparison to The IN Campaign Ltd – who were designated as the official Remain campaign group.

Vote Leave only managed to raise £2.8 million in donations, which was actually less that Leave.EU, who raised £3.2 million. The IN Campaign, however, raised almost £7 million – which means that a quick assessment of funds raised by the officially designated campaign groups puts the Remain camp in a more advantageous position.

This may of course make it easier for the Leave campaign to distribute funds in the run up to the referendum next month, since each campaign group, be it official or unofficial, is targeted at different groups of society. With all of the Remain camp's funding sitting in one basket - the dissemination of funds may prove to be a more difficult task.

It has been interesting to see the media’s reaction to the Electoral Commission figures. The typically pro-Brexit tabloids led with a congratulatory editorial steer on the news – honing in on what they believe to be a victory for the underdogs. There was also a surprising amount of negativity thrown towards the Remain camp for receiving their largest donations from the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – a group the Leave camp believe to be responsible for the latest global financial crisis (despite a number of them coming through the ranks of global financial institutions themselves).

The fact that headlines were dominated by the Leave camp’s donation victory and Remain’s ‘big cats’ backers serves as a timely reminder that tier-one newspapers are able to shape shift figures in order to match up to a certain media agenda. Ultimately, the official Remain campaign group raised almost three times the amount raised by the official Leave group, but the figures were covered as a Vote Leave victory – snapped up as an opportunity to scathe the ‘Remainers’ for surviving on donations from ‘the financial elite’, with Lord Owen of Vote Leave stating: “With their unlimited cash they are lobbying the British people to act in a way that benefits their profit margins.”

This is just a sign of what’s to come – the Electoral Commission will be regularly publishing donation figures in the build up to the referendum on the 23rd June – we look forward to seeing which groups emerge as official supporters as the polls continue to report an extremely close race to the finishing line.

Dominic Stannard

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search