Gordon Brown calls for urgent investigation into Brexit Party’s ‘dirty money’
Gordon Brown is to call for an urgent investigation into Brexit Party funding.
The former Labour prime minister will ask, in a speech in Glasgow, whether sufficient safeguards are in place to protect against "dirty money" donated by foreign actors attempting to influence UK politics.
Mr Brown warned "American and Russian techniques of election manipulation" could be being "imported" as he suggested they had been during the original EU referendum.
He will say: "I have written to the Electoral Commission, who have a duty to monitor every UK party's election finance and spending, demanding Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party be investigated, and I am asking the European Parliament to investigate his failure to declare income where there are potential conflicts of interest.
"Given what we know of the Brexit campaign of 2016, it is important that American and Russian techniques of election manipulation are not imported into the UK.
"And that, instead of waiting years to discover the true sources of funding and whether campaign finance is being legitimately received and used, we ask and answer these questions that are vital to the health of our democracy."
Mr Brown is expected to attack Nigel Farage's party for possible "under-the-counter and underhand" campaign financing ahead of the European elections on Thursday, when the Brexit Party is expected to sweep up the largest amount of votes.
He will highlight that the electoral watchdog had "warned of the dangers" of large amounts of cash being funnelled to parties in multiple small donations and linked this to the Brexit Party's funding model.
And the former Labour MP will say he believes that, far from protecting democracy, Mr Farage's party could be used to "fatally undermine ... the heart of our democratic system".
"Nigel Farage says this election is about democracy," he will say.
"Democracy is fatally undermined if unexplained, unreported and thus undeclared, and perhaps under-the-counter and underhand, campaign finance – from whom and from where we do not know – is being used to influence the very elections that are at the heart of our democratic system.
"And there are immediate reasons why an investigation is now urgent and essential."
Mr Brown will flag up that the Leave EU campaign is the subject of a criminal investigation by the National Crime Agency, and there are two other investigations by the Metropolitan Police and the Information Commissioner.
He will also claim there is a potential conflict of interest with Arron Banks, who he will say "has admitted he has secretly funded at least £450,000 of Mr Farage's lifestyle" while he was an MEP.
He will add: "Now Mr Farage heads a new Brexit party, which is making questionable claims about the true source of its funding at a time when the Electoral Commission has warned of the dangers of multiple, small, anonymous donations being a cover for dirty money."
Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice was asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the concerns raised by Mr Brown.
Initially, Mr Tice tried to dismiss the issue as "utterly ridiculous" before admitting he was not on top of whether there were foreign donors.
When asked whether the Brexit Party was taking "under-the-counter, underhand" donations, Mr Tice said: "This really is utterly ridiculous.
"People are just jealous of our success and the fact we're on course to win these elections.
"We've got a Paypal account for people paying less than £500; above that we apply the appropriate Electoral Commission rules."
Asked whether he had just confirmed that the party did take cash from foreign citizens, Mr Tice said: "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."
Critics claim the Paypal model is open to abuse because it does not require detailed personal information about donors, which other UK parties collect.
However, the Press Association understands that the law currently does not recognise sums of less than £500 given to parties as official donations, so rules on identification do not apply.
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 at Companies House and operating in the UK.
A spokesman for the Electoral Commission did not rule out an investigation being launched to tackle concerns.
He 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.
"These rules are in place to ensure fairness and transparency of all political party finance.
"As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we talk regularly to parties, including the Brexit Party, about ensuring they have robust systems in place so that they comply with the law.
"If we see evidence to suggest the rules have been broken, we will consider it in line with our enforcement policy."