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European Parliament Elections: Candidate Intimidation

Volume 658: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2019

6. What steps his Department is taking to prevent the intimidation of candidates in the event that the UK participates in the upcoming European Parliament elections. (910477)

The Government will work closely with the police and electoral administrators to tackle any reports or allegations of intimidation, as we do in the run-up to all elections.

I am very glad that the Minister is taking this seriously. There will be so many of us in this House who have seen an escalation of threats and abuse in the current political climate, and there is a real fear—when we have the likes of Nigel Farage saying that the European elections are an opportunity to put the “fear of God” into politicians—that such people run the risk of stoking up that kind of intimidation and aggressive behaviour. What can the Minister do to try to ensure that everyone conducts the European elections in a moderate, temperate, professional way?

I think there is a responsibility on politicians of all political parties—left, right and centre—to try to conduct elections in a spirit, yes, of democratic argument and debate, but also in a spirit of mutual respect for the fact that, in a pluralist democracy, we are entitled to disagree and to express our disagreement; and then to accept the election result however that turns out and to get on with people of other parties, who have an equal democratic mandate to our own.

I recently had the honour to co-host a conference on misogyny and antisemitism. May I urge the Government to do everything they can to make sure these two forms of hate crime do not prevent women from participating in elections and making their voices heard in the democratic process?

I agree wholly with what my right hon. Friend has just said. I think one of the most shocking features I have found about life in the House of Commons in the last few years is to learn, in particular from women MPs of different political parties, how they have often been singled out for the sort of misogynistic, brutal abuse that far too many have suffered.

May I ask the Minister what support he can give to local authorities, and particularly to polling station staff, who in fact may be the most vulnerable during the European election campaign?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have been consulting on creating a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. As far as the staff are concerned, any intimidation or abuse is prima facie a breach of existing criminal law, and I hope that political party representatives and presiding officers would have no hesitation in reporting such things to the police.

I am very clear and I think the Government are very clear that it is the duty of all politicians of all parties to call out abuse and intimidation wherever and whenever it happens. However, in this particular instance, would it not just be better to keep our promises, and call off these farcical elections?

It would indeed be the Government’s hope that, even now, we could agree and ratify the withdrawal agreement and give effect to it, which would make it possible for these elections not to take place, but the only way to stop these elections taking place is to bring into effect the withdrawal agreement or to pass primary legislation through Parliament disapplying our international obligations.

I am very worried about the fact that other candidates are already trying to intimidate candidates. Using language like “fear of God” is not a good way to go about our democracy. I was at a conference this morning at which a country, Eritrea, was trying to discuss how to build a democracy. Surely the Minister for the Cabinet Office will wish to be stronger in his language in condemning the outrageous language of other candidates using words such as “fear of God”?

I think I was very clear in my earlier comments that there is a profound responsibility on politicians, particularly political leaders, of any party to show moderation and restraint in the language they use about political opponents.