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EU Referendum: Electoral Law

Volume 638: debated on Monday 26 March 2018

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the EU referendum and alleged breaches of electoral law.

Many Members will have read the articles in The Guardian and The Observer this weekend regarding alleged breaches of electoral law and specifically allegations about Vote Leave and BeLeave acting in concert. Like others, I have written to the police and the Electoral Commission to request that each and every one of those allegations is fully investigated.

The serious and well-documented allegations appear to show active and regular co-ordination of, and input to BeLeave’s campaign by senior staff from Vote Leave, two of whom now work in the Prime Minister’s office, and one of whom appears to have been involved in outing one of the whistleblowers, putting them and their families’ lives at risk.

It was always going to be the case that providing funding of £625,000 to an almost unknown and relatively newly established organisation, apparently co-located in the same building as Vote Leave, but totally independent of Vote Leave, would attract suspicion. However, the reports add what may be totally new information, including that some of Vote Leave’s six-figure donation had never been transferred to BeLeave accounts, or that contracts for work carried out—allegedly on behalf of BeLeave—were not paid for by BeLeave.

I am also aware that the Electoral Commission has been investigating for some months allegations that Leave campaigners benefited from services provided by Cambridge Analytica or its associated companies, and that these were not reported as required by electoral law, whether paid for or provided as a benefit in kind. Given the closeness of the EU referendum result, and its impact on the UK’s future, it would be an absolute travesty of democracy if these allegations were not thoroughly investigated by the appropriate authorities.

I am not seeking through this request to pronounce on the guilt or otherwise of those named in reports this weekend, as these matters are of course sub judice. However, if the Standing Order No. 24 debate is granted, I would want to focus on the administration of elections and, in particular, referendums, in order to provide an opportunity for the Government to explain: whether they are content with the law that regulates elections and referendums currently; what action the UK Government intend to take to address any failings in electoral law they have already identified; and what mechanisms are in place to right past electoral wrongs.

The British public need certainty that our elections are free and fair, conducted within the rules, and that they have not been cheated. It is for this reason that I am making this urgent request for your consideration.

The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the EU referendum and alleged breaches of electoral law. I have listened carefully to his application and I am satisfied that the matter raised is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. I should emphasise, as I am not sure people always appreciate this and it is important to know the facts, that if this debate took place—that is dependent on numbers and so on—it would be a debate on what is called a “general motion” or a general debate. Therefore, it would take place on the basis that, “The House has considered the matter”; it is nothing more or less than that. It is not a question of which side of the argument colleagues happen to be on; it is simply a question of the Chair judging whether, if there is sufficient support in the House under the Standing Order, it should proceed as a debate. I am satisfied that it is proper to be aired. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?

Application agreed to.

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 27 March, as the first item of public business. It is up to me to decide, up to a limit of three hours, how long the debate should last. The debate will last for two hours, and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application—I am grateful to him.