Electoral Commission issues grovelling apology to Brexiteers

The Electoral Commission’s new boss has apologised to Brexiteers for the institution’s treatment of Leave activists in the wake of the Brexit referendum and has promised to “treat people like people” in future.

In an interview with The Telegraph, its new head John Pullinger admitted that there had been a perception of anti-Brexit bias within the Commission’s former administration and that Brexit activists had been subjected to “horrible” experiences in the numerous witch-hunts that followed the historic 2016 vote.

“There are a number of lessons from the past that we really need to get our heads around,” Mr Pullinger told the newspaper. “The first is to act quickly. Some of the investigations that I’ve heard the stories of have taken a very long time and that has a toll on people.

“It’s very worrying for them individually, it can be damaging for their reputations, and you need to take that into account,” the new Commission boss added.

“Another [lesson] I think, would be to treat people like people. I mean, it is a legal regulatory authority, but you can be robust, and be courteous at the same time and just be human about it and recognise that this process can be very concerning for people, and work with that.

“Some of the stories … you’ve seen that has had an emotional impact, and we need to think about that. And it can just feel like a byzantine bureaucracy … a lot of that is the artefact of the legislation. But we ought to try to do better,” Pullinger admitted.

The Electoral Commission engaged in a number of lengthy investigations into both Brexit campaigns and Brexit activists for alleged breaches of electoral law. One case involved Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes who accused the Commission of “issuing trumped up charges… principally because I ticked the wrong box on a form”.

Mr Pullinger identified the case against Darren Grimes as “one that stands out”, adding: “I’ve looked very carefully at that… he had a horrible time”.

“The Commission has apologised for what happened to him and I take this opportunity to apologise again. What happened to him should not have happened.”

Mr Pullinger’s acknowledgment of a previous apology by the Commission however appears to differ Mr Grimes’ own recollection, who tweeted: “The new Chairman of the Electoral Commission has apologised to me, through the pages of the Telegraph, nobody at the Electoral Commission has apologised to me personally. Actually, all of those unable to understand the law they’re there to protect are still employed by the taxpayer.”

Mr Pullinger’s admission about the Commission’s previous conduct conveniently coincides with proposed reforms by the government to limit the power of the elections regulator.