Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the UK, which claimed it was receiving payments of £100,000 a day during the recent campaign for the European parliament, is now facing claims it was not vigilant enough in checking small donations. But could the charges backfire against those making them?
Gordon Brown, ex-PM, is leading the charge. Brown said there were risks that democracy was being undermined if the Brexit party is allowed to accept foreign and untraceable donations via PayPal.
The Brexit party, which won 31.6% of the vote in the elections, was set up in March on a single issue, namely to drive through Brexit.
“Arron Banks, the lead funder of Leave.EU and a 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.”
Cash sources unknown
“I think every journalist in Britain and Europe should be digging into the funding and networking of Farage’s political vehicles and the other nationalist anti-immigration movements and parties rising right now,” says academic Emma Briant.
“It is too easy for foreign money to enter UK politics from self-interested foreign elites and enemies who don’t care about the future of British people. Nigel Farage and Arron Banks have obscured their funding sources and meetings but cannot hide the mounting evidence of close relationships to Russian officials and influence and attempts to source money from the US. Self-interested foreign money doesn’t care about the future of British citizens – it weakens ordinary Brits’ power to influence their politics and the future of Britain,” Briant says.
Others agree. “Russian money has infected the UK political process,” says Bill Browder. “There are prominent members of the House of Lords and other establishment figures who are unashamedly working for Russian oligarchs and acting in Russia’s interest in Britain. There’s so much Russian money sloshing around that it’s visible in payments to lobbyists, party finances and individual lawmakers.”
The rules of the game
In order to become a “registered supporter” of the Brexit party, a person must provide their name, address, email and phone number and make a £25 payment via a form on the website.
But, unlike most political parties, the Brexit party website has no safeguards to make sure donors are eligible to give money to British political parties.
Political gifts of under £500 made via PayPal do not have to be declared. A sum of money given to a party, however, only counts as a “donation” if it is more than £500. An official donation of £500 or more must be given by a “permissible donor,” who should either be somebody listed on the UK electoral roll or a business registered and operating in the UK. As a result a smaller donation could come from anyone in any country or organisation would not have to be sourced and declared.
In 2013, the Electoral Commission issued guidance to parties that “if a donor makes regular payments for an unspecified donation and towards an unspecified total amount, our view is that these payments should be treated as separate donations.”
These rules originate from legislation that’s now 20 years old – the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Legal balls rolling
There are already three criminal investigations into Leave.EU, by the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan police and the information commissioner.
The Electoral Commission has said it will attend the offices of the Brexit party to “review its systems” after Brown urged them to investigate concerns over the legality of the party’s funding.
The commission has 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.
An Electoral Commission statement 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.”
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder has written to the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani demanding an investigation. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has also referred Farage to the European Anti-Fraud Office.
The European Parliament’s advisory committee has said it will look into whether Farage broke rules by accepting funding from campaigner Banks.
Farage fights back
Farage accused Brown of an “absolutely disgusting smear.”
“This from the man (Brown) 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, adding that the board of the commission were all remain supporters and it, along with the two-party system, the House of Lords and the voting system, needed to be “looked at.”
“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.”
Farage then claimied the Brexit party had come under a coordinated attack from Brown and the media.
Richard Tice, the Brexit party’s chairman and co-founder, added on Twitter that the allegations were unfounded. “The Brexit party only receives money in sterling. “I don’t sit in front of the PayPal account all day so I don’t know what currencies people are paying in, but, as I understand it, the PayPal takes it in sterling.”
Tice later demanded an apology after a BBC pundit suggested on national television that the party gets illicit support from Russia.
“Ironically,” Tom Harris wrote in the Daily Telegraph, “the Electoral Commission’s decision plays into Farage’s hands and helps burnish his credentials, not only as a political outsider (which he’s not), but also as the plucky victim of an establishment that sees him as a threat. In this last regard, he undoubtedly has a point.”