4 November 2019
Scott Ainslie, Green MEP for London, has written to the Minister for the Constitution – Chloe Smith MP – urging the Government to immediately release its controversial report on Russian interference in the UK electoral process.
The letter also highlights an array of other recent developments that raise alarm bells over the UK Government’s ability to manage a free and fair election campaign over the coming six weeks.
- The Government’s continued failure to heed warnings from the Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators that our system is outdated and unfit for purpose.
- The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s assessment that “our electoral regulations arehopelessly out of date for the internet age”.
- New allegations over the extent of Boris Johnson’s involvement in Vote Leave’s illegal overspend during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.
- Mark Zuckerberg's admission that Facebook can still be used to deliberately target disinformation to particular audiences.
Scott urges the Government to act immediately on the recommendations of our electoral regulators and administrators to fix our broken electoral system.
Scott Ainslie – Green MEP for London and substitute member of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee – says:
“As we embark on one of the most important election campaigns in modern British history, it is absolutely unacceptable for the Government to keep this critical report under wraps.
Given this weekend’s new allegations, Boris Johnson still has major questions to answer about Vote Leave’s illegal overspend. We have every right to know what other electoral irregularities the Prime Minister has to hide.
The decision to block the report is symptomatic of the siege mentality within Number 10, as the Prime Minister and his pals try to stitch up an election campaign as a means to driving through their catastrophic hard Brexit.
At this moment in history, it is more important than ever that our electoral system is robust and able to withstand unprecedented pressures from external forces and those with the deepest pockets. Sadly – right now – I do not believe this to be the case, and it’s clear there’s absolutely no political will to fix this situation before the coming election.
For the sake of our democracy, the Government must act immediately on all the recommendations of our electoral regulators and administrators, and seek to plug the holes in our punctured electoral system.
Only once we’ve fixed our broken electoral laws and made sure that all parties play by the rules can we genuinely begin to build a democratic framework that restores public confidence and heals the deep divisions in our United Kingdom.”
Read the full text of Scott’s letter to the Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith MP, below.
Urgent: It is in the overwhelming public interest to release the ISC report on Russian interference in UK elections today
I am appalled to learn that the Government has today blocked the release of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report on the security threat posed by Russia to the UK.
Since the Chair of this Committee, Dominic Grieve MP, has warned the report’s contents have major implications for the upcoming election and sees absolutely no reason to delay its publication any further, it is clearly in the national interest for it to be in the public domain as of today.
This is just the latest in a series of events that causes me immense concern about the UK’s ability to hold free and fair elections. And at this moment in history – as the UK faces an unprecedented constitutional crisis and confidence in our elections has plummeted – it is more important than ever that our electorate is told the truth, that our electoral system is robust, and that all parties play by the rules.
As it stands, I do not believe this to be the case. Here’s why:
Risks of foreign interference
In February, the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee released a new report: ‘Disinformation and Fake News’. Your colleague, Damien Collins MP who Chairs the committee admitted that foreign countries, including Russia, pose a particular threat to our electoral system and that “our electoral regulations are hopelessly out of date for the internet age”.
In response to the growing threat of foreign disinformation campaigns in national elections, the European Parliament last month passed a resolution calling on Member States to take decisive action on this issue.
Given the seriousness of these concerns, it beggars belief that the Government has today blocked the release of the ISC report which includes evidence from UK intelligence services concerning Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 UK general election.
There is absolutely no excuse for this report to be withheld until after the election. If the Government had any interest in upholding our democratic standards – or an iota of respect for the electorate – it would release this information today.
The spread of disinformation via social media
Whilst we welcome the move by Twitter to ban paid political ads, it is regrettable that there has still been no firm commitment by either Twitter or Facebook to rigorously fact check and moderate claims made by political parties.
Alarmingly, Mr Zuckerberg was last week unable to deny to an audience of US lawmakers that his platform can still be used to deliberately target disinformation to particular audiences.
I welcome the UK’s attendance at the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News to be held in Dublin on the 6th November. However, given the Government’s failure to act on the aforementioned findings of the DCMS Select Committee, I question whether there is the political will to take swift and firm action on these issues.
Allegations against Vote Leave
I am also extremely concerned about the Conservative Government’s apparent willingness to bend the law when it suits its own political agenda.
New allegations suggest that Boris Johnson knew of Vote Leave’s illegal overspend during the 2016 EU referendum campaign, but he failed to highlight this to the authorities. Both Johnson and Dominic Cummings remain under investigation for their roles in the campaign. It is shocking that it has taken over six months for the Metropolitan Police to hand information concerning this investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Failing to take advice from election officials
Our democracy was once the envy of the world. After years of neglect, it has been severely undermined. It’s extremely alarming, for example, that the Government failed to act on the Electoral Commission’s recommendations of 2016 and 2019 which would have plugged some of the holes in our punctured electoral system.
The Electoral Commission’s report on the EU elections in May 2019 concludes that Government delays in enacting electoral reform prevented thousands of EU27 citizens living in the UK and British citizens elsewhere in Europe from casting a vote.
Not only were those who had chosen to exercise their right to freedom of movement and build their lives in another EU country denied a vote in the 2016 referendum, the Government failed to act to prevent them being disenfranchised three years later.
Unsafe snap elections
The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) recently published a report highlighting its “genuine concerns” about the expectation that elections could always be safely delivered regardless of the landscape, timing, funding, or capacity of people delivering them.
Just last week, the chief executive of the AEA also voiced fresh concerns about the security of postal votes in the upcoming election – given the short notice for these to be printed, the possibility of adverse weather conditions, a backlog of Christmas post, and potential strike action by Royal Mail workers.
As your colleague Damien Collins MP has warned: “we cannot delay any longer”. For the sake of our democracy, the Government must act immediately on the recommendations of our electoral regulators and administrators. Only once we’ve fixed our broken electoral laws can we genuinely begin to build a democratic framework that restores public confidence and heals the deep divisions in our United Kingdom.
Scott Ainslie MEP (Green Party, London)
Click below to download the letter in PDF format.