Campaigners warn Overseas Electors Bill risks rush of ‘dark money’ into British politics

Posted on the 22nd March 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 22nd March 2019
  • Contact Jon Narcross, Communications Officer, Jon.Narcross@electoral-reform.org.uk, 07794728820

Campaigners are warning that the Overseas Electors’ Bill – which would abolish the limit Britons can live abroad and still donate to parties – could flood our politics with unregulated cash [1] and spur an ‘arms race’ in political spending.

The Private Members’ Bill – which has government backing and has its report stage in the Commons today [2] – would enable Brits living abroad to vote and donate to UK parties without ever having to step foot back in the UK.

The Electoral Reform Society are warning that while the intention of the bill is sound, there could be ‘unintended consequences’ in paving the way for unscrupulous actors to influence our politics.

The ERS are working alongside FairVote and Stephen Kinnock MP to launch a new APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency. The Society are calling for a comprehensive update to Britain’s ‘wild west’ party funding and campaigning rules, following their latest report [3].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“The government must carefully consider the risks of allowing unfettered donations from abroad. Unscrupulous states will be looking for loopholes to steer our politics, meaning we should pause before opening the floodgates further.

“The UK’s campaign finance rules have not been updated since 2000. Since then, we have seen mounting evidence that our elections are potentially exposed to interference. To tackle the ‘wild west’ we need a comprehensive review of our outdated, loophole-ridden electoral laws.

“There is a basic British principle that those funding our parties should be domiciled here – indeed it is in law but not enacted. Businesses donating to parties must generate revenue here, so it seems fair that individuals wishing to funnel in funds from abroad should be able to prove a consistent connection to the UK.

“We need clear, consistent principles for the funding of our parties in the modern age. Our Parliament and parties should not be available to the highest bidders around the world.

“Voters will not accept a situation where tax exiles and shell companies are able to exert a disproportionate sway over our politics. The government should listen to these concerns and launch a comprehensive review of Britain’s loophole-ridden campaign rules.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Earlier this month the ERS urged the government to close a major loophole allowing ‘non dom donors’ to funnel funds into British parties. A law was passed to close the loophole allowing non-doms to donate to UK parties in 2009 – but the provision was never implemented by ministers, The Times found that millions of pounds has been donated to UK parties by so-called tax exiles in recent years: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/tax-exile-scandal-government-must-close-loophole-on-non-dom-party-donors-says-electoral-reform-society/

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/bid-to-ease-rules-over-tax-exiles-party-donations-sfpd68hpr

[2] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/overseaselectors.html

[3] Read the ERS’ recent report on political campaign rules: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/reining-in-the-political-wild-west-campaign-rules-for-the-21st-century/

Press release here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/next-election-is-at-risk-of-foul-play-and-foreign-interference-without-campaign-reform-warn-regulators-campaigners-and-academics/

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