Labor amendments to counter ‘Russian influence’, Starmer asks PM – LabourList

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Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to back two amendments to the Elections Bill proposed by Labor to guard against “the continuing threat of Russian influence in our democracy” amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister this afternoon, the Labor leader argued that the changes would ‘close the loophole allowing the use of front companies to hide the true source of donations to political parties by foreign actors’.

A change to the bill would require individuals and companies donating to political parties in the UK to be based in the UK, and would make companies that run businesses liable for offenses of circumventing donation restrictions committed by these companies. Another would prevent overseas voters from donating to UK political parties.

Starmer told the Prime Minister: “These proposals would ensure that donors to UK political parties have a connection to the UK, by requiring individual and corporate donors to be based here. These proposals would also ensure that there are consequences for businesses and individuals if the rules are broken.

People can currently donate to political parties in the UK for 15 years after moving abroad. The proposed election laws would remove this rule. “The Elections Bill risks allowing an unfettered flow of donations from people who may never have lived in the UK or contributed here, by removing the 15-year rule,” Starmer wrote.

“Without this there is no control over donations that come in from overseas. The Labor Party believes that only those who live in the UK should be able to make financial donations to political parties.”

Starmer used a Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this afternoon to ask whether Johnson would ‘change course’ to back the measures in the Lords. Labor’s appeal came after Johnson was criticized for weak sanctions against Russia.

Links have been alleged between several individuals associated with Putin’s regime and the Conservative Party. Liz Truss said this morning the party would not return nearly £2million in donations from these people.

Labor’s analysis of Election Commission data on cash donations since Johnson became leader in 2019 found the Tories had accepted money from Lubov Chernukhin, Alexander Temerko and Mohamed Amersi. Each donated £700,000, £357,000 and £258,000, respectively, to the Conservative Party.

The Elections Bill completed its legislative stages in the House of Commons last year and is currently being considered by the Lords. The bill has its second reading this afternoon, where the peers have the opportunity to debate the principle of the bill.

Concerns have also been raised, by Labor MPs and campaigners, that the Elections Act will disenfranchise voters with provisions to implement a requirement to produce photo ID at offices of voting.

The Electoral Reform Society warned last year that the Government’s Elections Bill, as it stands, would drive a ‘bulldozer through our democracy’ and could disenfranchise more than two million people across the country .

write for work list On Tuesday, Labor MP Cat Smith said: ‘As the Tories lose the country’s trust, the Government is using the Election Bill to ensure they can avoid the consequences of their actions.’

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Keir Starmer to Boris Johnson.

Dear Prime Minister,

Today in Prime Minister’s Questions I asked you about the proposals in the Election Bill regarding the continued flow of foreign money into our democracy and asked for your government’s support for the party’s proposals Labor Party to fill this gap.

I understand that it is difficult to provide a substantive answer during this question period, so I hope you will consider supporting these two comprehensive proposals, which are due to be considered by the House of Lords in the weeks to come, as common sense solutions to the continued influx of foreign money into UK political parties.

Our proposed New Term Nine and New Term Two, both annexed to this letter, would close the loophole allowing the use of front companies to hide the true source of political party donations by foreign actors. These proposals would ensure that donors to UK political parties have a connection to the UK, by requiring individual and corporate donors to be based here. These proposals would also ensure that there are consequences for businesses and individuals if the rules are broken.

First, our proposal would end Elections Bill plans to allow non-residents to donate to political parties through an incredibly relaxed registration process, including people living in tax havens to avoid to pay tax in the UK for decades.

The Elections Bill risks allowing an unfettered flow of donations from people who may never have lived in the UK or contributed here, by removing the 15-year rule. This rule currently prevents expats from donating to political parties after 15 years of living outside the UK. Without this, there is no control over the donations that come in from abroad. The Labor Party believes that only those who live in the UK should be able to make financial donations to political parties.

Second, our proposals would bring transparency to companies that donate to political parties. We know that shell companies are used to hide the true identity of donors. Our proposed amendment would ensure that only UK-based companies, subject to registration with Companies House, can donate to political parties. It would also make individuals liable for donation restriction circumvention offenses committed by their businesses.

Taken together, these proposals would close dangerous loopholes that serve to weaken our donation laws and our democracy. In the context of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and the continued threat of Russian influence in our democracy, I am sure you will agree that we need to be more vigilant than ever.

These are direct amendments that will provide vital safeguards to our world-leading British democracy.

I look forward to a prompt response to this letter and would be happy to meet with you to discuss this important matter further.

Cordially,

Keir Starmer

Annex

Article 9 new: The draft electoral law:

To move the next clause—

“Donors authorized to be based in the UK and associated offenses

(1) Section 54 of the PPERA (authorized donors) is amended in accordance with

subsections (2) to (5).

(2) At the end of paragraph (2)(a), insert “ordinarily resident in the UK and domiciled in the UK for personal tax purposes”.

(3) After subparagraph (2)(b)(ii), insert:

“(iii) employing the majority of its staff at sites in the United Kingdom, and

(iv) employing at least five people in the UK”.

(4) At the end of paragraph (2)(f), insert “has a majority of partners who are registered on a UK electoral roll, ordinarily resident in the UK and are domiciled in the UK for the purposes of the personal taxation, employs the majority of its staff at sites in the UK and employs at least five people in the UK.

(5) At the end of paragraph (2)(h), insert “a majority of the persons exercising significant control who are registered on a UK electoral roll, ordinarily reside in the UK and are domiciled in the UK at individual tax purposes, and does not employ any staff at all, or employ the majority of its staff at sites in the UK.

(6) Section 61 of the PPERA (offences relating to the circumvention of restrictions on donations) is amended in accordance with subsection (7).

(7) After subsection (2), insert—

“(3) A person commits an offense if he is a director of a company, holds a position of substantial control in an unincorporated association or is a partner in a limited liability partnership, and such company, association or partnership—(a) is not an authorized donor and is donating to a political organization

party (whether or not the gift is accepted), or (b) does, or otherwise causes to be done, an act which, if the body were a person, would constitute an offense under subsection (1) or (2) .

Explanatory memorandum of the members:

This new clause requires individual and corporate donors to be based in the UK and makes those running businesses liable for breaches of donation restrictions committed by those businesses.

Article 2 new: The draft electoral law:

To move the next clause—

“Authorized Donors

(1) Section 54 (authorized donors) of the PPERA is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (2)(a), after “register”, insert “at the time the donation is made, but not an individual so registered as a foreign voter”;

Explanatory memorandum of the deputies:

This new clause would prevent overseas voters from donating to political parties in the UK.

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