Carmichael – Russian influence risk demands Elections Bill rethink

Orkney and Shetland MP and Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Electoral Reform, Alistair Carmichael, has today argued in Parliament that recent events with the Russian invasion of Ukraine require a rethink on the government’s Elections Bill, which amongst other provisions would reduce the independence of the Electoral Commission. 

Mr Carmichael asked a representative of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what recent assessment the Electoral Commission had made of the due diligence requirements for donations to political parties from individuals with links to the Russian Government, and referred to allegations over the weekend that the Prime Minister had overruled security services’ concerns to award a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, a political ally and son of a former KGB agent. The Prime Minister denies the allegations.

Responding, the committee representative, Christian Matheson MP said:

“Voters deserve to know that elections in the UK are free and fair and that laws are in place to safeguard them from unlawful influence. The law sets out what constitutes a permissible donor, including qualifying foreign donors from whom parties can accept donations.

“The commission has recommended introducing new duties on parties to enhance due diligence and risk assessment of donations based on existing money laundering regulations, which would protect parties and build confidence among voters that sources of party funding are thoroughly scrutinised.”

Mr Carmichael asked:

“He will have seen reports at the weekend surrounding concerns with regard to the awarding of a particular peerage, something on which there has been no credible denial. Does he agree that, when we see such stories, we realise that we need a stronger not a weaker Electoral Commission? For that reason, the Government should not be proceeding with the measures in the Elections Bill.”

Mr Matheson replied:

“The Commission has said that it would like to see enhanced due diligence to require political parties manage the risk of unlawful foreign funding and would support the adoption of a “know your donor” culture. It will also check and audit some of the donations that are made known to it to make sure that they comply.”

Reacting after the exchange Mr Carmichael said:

“Recent events have amply demonstrated the need for a rethink in how we handle electoral rules and political influence – and that we need to strengthen the role of the independent Electoral Commission, not control it as the Conservatives intend. If the Tories are serious about tackling the Russian influence in our politics then they should withdraw their divisive Elections Bill and work with all parties to create root-and-branch election reform that makes our politics work for everyone.”

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