A thank you to Vote Leave’s donors on the first anniversary of our designation

A thank you to Vote Leave’s donors on the first anniversary of our designation

Today marks an auspicious anniversary in the history of Brexit: it is one year since Vote Leave secured designation from the Electoral Commission as the official Leave campaign. This decision was crucial to our victory on the 23rd June. Had Vote Leave not been designated, I’ve no doubt that the EU referendum would have been lost to the Remainers.

As Chairman of Vote Leave’s Finance Committee, one of my pet peeves about designation was the belief among the public that with designation, came a cheque for £7 million of taxpayers’ money. This common misunderstanding appeared in several of the books that were written about the Referendum. Granted, we were given £600,000; the right to air a number of referendum campaign broadcasts on TV and radio; and the right to distribute a leaflet (printed at our expense) to every voter in the country. But beyond that, £7 million was the amount to which our spending was limited by law during the 10-week campaign period, and we had to raise all of it ourselves. The Stronger In campaign (BSE), on the other hand, benefitted from a slug of taxpayers’ money, with £9 million being spent by the Government on a leaflet promoting a Remain vote (after which they could then spend a further £7 million on top of that).

£7 million was not, of course, all that we spent. We were out campaigning long prior to the beginning of the 10 weeks before the vote; some amounts (staff salaries, for example) were allowed to be spent above the £7 million; and we needed money after June 23rd, to close down Vote Leave and deal with any post-referendum issues. In all, we raised and spent a little over £15 million. The spending was easier than the raising!

This first anniversary of Vote Leave’s designation is an appropriate moment to look back on how we went about raising the money, and once again thank those heroes who gave us the resources to fight the campaign. So, how did we raise the money?

Before Vote Leave came Business for Britain. It’s worth remembering that at that time, we had almost all the establishment, and the big money, arrayed against us. Commercial and Investment Banks from the US were an important source of funds for BSE, and it was clear that many favours were called in as the government and BSE sought funding and support for the Remain campaign; likewise, attempts were made on many natural Leave supporters to scare them off from donating to us. And yet, as I say, from start to finish, we raised a little over £15 million. This is a serious amount of money to raise, particularly since there were other Leave campaigns fundraising from a similar pool of supporters. Vote Leave was not, of course, a political party: those have years to acquire a donor base; can build on long-term relationships; and have the prospect of rewarding their donors with baubles and gongs (as indeed turned out felicitously to be the case for some in the Remain campaign).

Rather, we had to rely primarily on the Business for Britain donor base, which had built up its contributions to a cumulative £3 million over the three years to September 2015. Daniel Hodson deserves much credit for building this donor base as Honorary Treasurer of Business for Britain. Having raised £3 million by September, we then had to raise an additional £12+ million, in a very short space of time, very little of it from those who would be considered as ‘Establishment’ figures.

That we succeeded was a fantastic tribute to our donors, and to their faith in Vote Leave. From the beginning, right through to the end, Peter Cruddas was the rock upon which our finances were built. Matthew Elliott, our Chief Executive, first worked with Peter on the NOtoAV campaign, where the two of them were central figures, turning the original 2 to 1 support for electoral reform to 2 to 1 opposition. Peter was then the first donor to Business for Britain, a Board member, and then Treasurer of Vote Leave, where he gave us the substantial money, support and reassurance that allowed us to forge ahead, at times with commitments when we didn’t have the money in hand. As a duo, Matthew and Peter are formidable, having now run and won the two most recent national referendums. They are pictured above with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson on the morning of 24 June 2016.

Another key member of the £1m Club (a small list of those who contributed that amount, adding up to under a half of total donations) was Stuart Wheeler, who was also a Treasurer of the campaign, and another early supporter who gave us the vital resources we needed before the political big beasts came on board in February. Our biggest donor was Jeremy Hosking, a true patriot who went above and beyond for the cause.

We secured a handful of six-figure sums, and a healthy slug of mid-sized (four- and five-figure) sums. But just as important were the enormous amount of small donations (over £1 million raised, three quarters of it online, in some 22,000 donations of less than £200). Fundraisers always bear in mind the parable of the widow’s mite: smaller amounts donated from the less wealthy can sometimes be substantially more painful to those donors than far larger donations from the more wealthy. Regardless of pain, each amount was key in getting our war chest filled. We salute all of our donors.

Raising the full amount of money we needed was not easy. Even at the beginning of June, with only a couple of weeks to go before the end of the referendum, we still had over £1 million to raise, relative to the £7 million spending limit and our other needs. At that point, in the first and second week of June, there was – as Matthew Elliott had predicted – a surge of donations, one or two very large, that brought us over the top with only a week or so to go before 23rd June. At this late point, we closed down our fundraising appeal on the website and were able to focus 100% on winning the referendum.

Our funding was not, as the FT and others alleged, driven by hedge fund donors; it was not, as had been the case for the Remain side, from the Government or from large American investment banks; Vote Leave had no donor whose contributions were anywhere near the size of, for example, the various donations made by Lord Sainsbury to the Remain side. Our donors were largely private UK citizens with no axe of personal profit to grind, but with a passionate wish to take back control of our country.

We were permitted, as I said, to spend no more than £7 million in so-called ‘designated spending’ during the 10-week campaign period. The Government got around this limit by spending £9 million on its leaflet, along with a big social media push, just a few days before the ‘designated period’ commenced. All in all, it seems that adding up just before and during the 10-week campaign, the Remain forces succeeded in spending vastly more than we Leavers were able, or indeed allowed, to spend.

So in all this spending, we had to be, and were, extraordinarily careful with money. Every penny was made to count: our spend was innovative, whether in the VICS system for identifying ‘our’ voters; or in the focus we had on properly using social media for reaching voters, rather than on the ineffectual billboards and posters of former (and our opponents’) campaigns. Our Finance team have not, I hope, minded me calling them penny-pinchers. They challenged every dodgy invoice and squeezed every penny until it squeaked, enabling us to pay all of our bills.

We were also able to pay all our staff appropriately, although by no means over-generously. Many of Vote Leave’s staff had upped sticks and left safe jobs to join us, even though they knew that their time with Vote Leave would not be long and that they would, post-referendum, immediately be out of a job. Each joined Vote Leave because they believed in the Leave cause and wanted to do their level best to make it happen. I salute them.

Success, they say, has a thousand fathers, while failure is (in the polite version) an orphan – or (in the more accurate, less polite version) a bastard. In the case of the wonderful Leave victory in the referendum, the claims, both high and low, as to who delivered success have certainly been thousand-fold. But in the end, who did what is irrelevant. We won, and I think all of us know that it was all of us who made this happen, in ways large and small, known and unknown; in donations of money, time, passion, and intellect; in a day, or over years.

Without the extraordinary Leave coalition — not just Vote Leave — sometimes harmonious, sometimes wobbling, sometimes startlingly effective and sometimes no doubt ludicrously incompetent, the victory would never have happened. There are a legion of individuals; of individual actions; of strokes of luck and of calculated acts, without any of which contributions and contributions the referendum might have been lost. The objective here is not to obsess over that, but just to thank again all of the donors to Vote Leave, and the people of Vote Leave. Without all of them, I am absolutely convinced, we could not possibly have won the referendum.

Jon Moynihan chaired the Vote Leave Finance Committee, and was the first chair of its Campaign Committee. This document is extracted from a longer report he authored for Vote Leave after the referendum.