Electoral Commission to visit Brexit party offices over funding concerns
The Electoral Commission has said it will attend the offices of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party to “review its systems” after Gordon Brown urged them to investigate concerns over the legality of the party’s funding.
The former prime minister told a Labour rally in Glasgow the commission had the powers to carry out live investigations during elections, and issue interim statements on whether it believes there are unanswered legal questions about party funding.
Brown said there were clear risks democracy was being damaged if the Brexit party was allowed to accept foreign and untraceable donations via the online payments service PayPal. Political gifts of under £500, whether made via PayPal or another route, do not have to be declared.
Farage “is not going to be remembered, as he wants, as the man of the people. He’s going to be remembered as the man of the PayPal, because that is where the money is coming from,” Brown declared.
Following the speech, the Electoral Commission issued a statement, saying they planned to attend the party’s offices on Tuesday. A spokesperson said: “The Brexit party, like all registered political parties, has to comply with laws that require any donation it accepts of over £500 to be from a permissible source.
“It is also subject to rules for reporting donations, loans, campaign spending and end of year accounts. We have already been talking to the party about these issues.
“As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we are attending the Brexit party’s office tomorrow to conduct a review of the systems it has in place to receive funds, including donations over £500 that have to be from the UK only. If there’s evidence that the law may have been broken, we will consider that in line with our enforcement policy.”
Brown said the European parliament should be investigating the disclosures last week that Farage had received about £450,000 in financial support from Arron Banks, the Eurosceptic businessman who funded Farage’s Leave.EU Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum. That could be a clear conflict of interest with Farage’s duties as an MEP, he added.
“The Electoral Commission and the European parliament should now investigate the finances of Nigel Farage and the Brexit party,” he said.
“Democracy is undermined. [Farage] says the election is about democracy. Democracy is undermined if we’ve undeclared, unreported, untraceable payments being made to the Brexit party. If we’ve the potential for underhand and under-the-counter payments being made.
“[If] this election is about trust in democracy the Electoral Commission has the power before Thursday to tell us if they have had questions answered about where the money is coming from, who is giving the money; whether the money is coming from foreign sources including America and Russia and whether rules are being broken,” Brown added.
Farage accused Brown of an “absolutely disgusting smear” against his party. “This from the man who was part of a Labour party who, through Lord Levy, were making a lot of big donors members of the House of Lords,” Farage said on a campaign visit to Exeter.
Richard Tice, the Brexit party’s chairman and co-founder, insisted on Twitter on Monday morning the allegations of illicit foreign funding via PayPal were unfounded.
He tweeted: “The Brexit Party only receives money in sterling. The offer stands to send a BBC journalist to come and look at our Paypal account.”
Farage said he was indignant about Brown’s allegations: “How dare he? Most of our money has been raised by people giving £25 to become registered supporters and nearly 110,000 of them now have done that. Frankly, this smacks of jealousy because the other parties simply can’t do this.
“How open can we be? What you have got here are the conspiracy theorists doing their utmost to try and delegitimise what is the fastest-growing political movement this country has ever seen.”
Brown alleged there was precedent for these questions over the Brexit party’s funding. He said there were already three criminal investigations into Leave.EU, by the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan police and by the Information Commissioner.
“Arron Banks, the lead funder of Leave.EU and the friend of Nigel Farage, has been under investigation. He has big contacts with Russia,” Brown said.
“We don’t know where his money comes from and yet we found out last week he has given £450,000 in payments to support Nigel Farage while Nigel Farage was in a public office in the European parliament who should have been declaring the payments to avoid any conflict of interest.”
The former Labour leader added that if, as the polls suggest, the Brexit party wins the largest number of seats in Thursday’s election, the Conservative MPs vying to replace Theresa May as party leader and prime minister would immediately shift ground to back a no-deal Brexit.
He said only Labour had the strength in numbers across the UK to stand up to Farage and the Brexit party at this election, since there was currently only one Liberal Democrat MEP and two Scottish National party MEPs.