Vote Leave campaign gave a student £625,000 to help reach young voters

The donation made him one of the best-funded unofficial campaigners of the whole referendum


The official campaign for Britain to leave the European Union gave £625,000 to a student to campaign online.

Electoral Commission records have revealed that Vote Leave gave Darren Grimes, a 23-year-old fashion design student at the University of Brighton, £625,000 to help appeal to young voters in the days running up to the campaign. The has reported the figure as being even higher, at £675,315. Buzzfeed accounts for the extra £50,000 as being from an individual Vote Leave donor in the final 10 days before the referendum.

Darren in a video for the BBC

Darren in a video for the BBC

A source affiliated with Vote Leave told the Times that the campaign had donated Mr Grimes the money as it wanted to ensure all of the money within its £7 million spending limit was used. To compare, Vote Leave raised £9.2 million from members of the public during the entire five-month campaign period.

The source said: “He may be young but there was no point giving money to old people to run a campaign persuading young people to vote for Brexit.”

Grimes used the money on BeLeave, a social media project aimed at young voters, and a political consultancy group called AggregateIQ, who ran an online campaign on his behalf according to the Times. Turnout among those aged 18 to 24 was notably low in the referendum, sitting at a mere 36 per cent. Of those, 75 per cent voted to remain.

The fashion design student, who has finished his first year and hails from County Durham, was featured in BBC’s ‘Generation 2015’ showcase of first time voters for the May 2015 General Election, and appeared in videos on the BBC’s website and social media pages. He has criticised unpaid internships and called for a return of “aspirational politics”  to “reengage the voter.” His LinkedIn page also states that he was the social media manager for Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb in 2015 for three months.

A few days after the result of the referendum, Grimes appeared in a Channel 4 News interview, describing himself as “thrilled” and “so proud” of the result of the Brexit vote.

Questions have been raised about the amount of money spent; at the last count BeLeave had just over 6,000 Facebook fans and fewer than 4,000 Twitter followers. AggregateIQ is also conspicuously absent from the internet; the only mention of a company with such a name that the Tab could find is here.

Grimes told Buzzfeed News that AggregateIQ helped him “to reach as many people as possible…as a digital campaign targeted towards millennials, it was essential we reached our target audience. AggregateIQ used video advertising, Google Ads, landing pages on our website to inspire sign-ups and help us get out the vote on polling day using text messages and newsletters.”

In response to the queries about how efficiently the money was spent, Vote Leave’s communications director Paul Stephenson defended the donations, saying: “We are very happy with the campaigning that he did. The campaigning was completely up to him. We were entitled to give money to him, which is what we did. And we won – so it couldn’t have been all bad, could it.”

Mr Grimes has been reached for comment but is yet to respond.