The electoral watchdog should be abolished and its powers handed back to local councils, the three remaining board members of the Vote Leave campaign group have said.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The call came as Alan Halsall, one of the directors, spoke out for the first time to lay bare the toll taken the Electoral Commission’s pursuit of him in the years following the 2016 referendum.” data-reactid=”18″>The call came as Alan Halsall, one of the directors, spoke out for the first time to lay bare the toll taken the Electoral Commission’s pursuit of him in the years following the 2016 referendum.
MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee are due to grill senior officials from the Commission about its work on Thursday.
Earlier this month, the Government said it was considering whether to allow the Electoral Commission to have beefed-up powers to undertake its own prosecutions. A review the committee for standards in public life said it would “consider whether the commission should play a role in criminal prosecutions for breaches of election finance laws”.
This came despite, in May, police dropping an investigation into Mr Halsall and Darren Grimes, the founder of pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave, for failing to declare a payment related to the campaign.
The watchdog said BeLeave “spent more than £675,000 with [Canadian data firm] Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave”.
This spending took Vote Leave over its £7 million legal spending limit almost £500,000. Vote Leave had said they were given the go-ahead to give the money to BeLeave and had acted within the rules.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="As large legal costs mounted, Vote Leave paid a £61,000 fine last year but denied any wrongdoing, while Mr Grimes won an appeal against his £20,000 fine.” data-reactid=”24″>As large legal costs mounted, Vote Leave paid a £61,000 fine last year but denied any wrongdoing, while Mr Grimes won an appeal against his £20,000 fine.
Vote Leave is currently being wound up its directors Mr Halsall, Jon Moynihan and Daniel Hodson, a legal process that can take months.
In a statement to The Telegraph, the trio said: “The Board of Vote Leave is firmly of the belief that the Electoral Commission should be abolished, and its functions returned to the various institutions that have traditionally occupied those roles.”
Mr Moynihan has suggested that the commission’s powers are divided between existing bodies, with Companies House keeping a register of candidates or campaigners.
He added that a group of senior council returning officers should regulate referendums and check donations and expenses against the law, while the police would investigate and prosecute infractions.
In a submission to the committee, entitled Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who will guard us from the guardians?) Mr Moynihan said the commission was “an experiment that has failed”.
Mr Moynihan said the commission was set up Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2000 “as a solution to a perceived problem that all agreed was at worst only a small one – and which in reality didn’t exist at all”.
He added: “The commission’s recent actions have created a situation where honest citizens will now understandably fear to engage in the democratic process for elections or referenda, especially if the EC is allowed to continue.
“Who, having behaved blamelessly, will want to expose themselves to having years of their life taken away, having to defend themselves against financial sanctions and worse, their reputations attemptedly brought into disrepute?”
Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Halsall said: “I am an honest, innocent man who volunteered to help in a campaign that went to the heart of the future of our country.
“You may not agree with my opinions, but I got involved with the best of intentions and a desire to play my part in contributing to a democratic debate around Brexit. I ask you, having read this story, would any of you now volunteer to do the same?”
An Electoral Commission spokesman said on Saturday: “The Electoral Commission was created to provide integrity and transparency of party and election finance; well-run elections and referendums which produce results that are accepted; and to develop public understanding of the way our democracy works.
“These are vital functions, which our democracy cannot be without.”
Sources pointed out that the commission imposed fines on Vote Leave for breaking electoral law, which have been paid.
They added that the commission referred Vote Leave to the police so that potential offences that lie outside oits remit could be properly investigated.
These were separate and additional offences to those the commission found Vote Leave had committed. It is right that potential electoral offences are properly investigated the appropriate authority, they said.