Tory chairman Brandon Lewis questions election watchdog's 'impartiality' amid move for new powers

Posted On: 
10th February 2019

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis has questioned whether Britain’s election regulator should be handed new powers given doubts over its “impartiality”.

Brandon Lewis speaking at the 2018 Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham
Credit: 
PA Images

The Great Yarmouth MP suggested the Electoral Commission was not seen as a "fair" arbiter given one of the key figures in leading the changes has previously strongly criticised the Tories.

It comes amid reports that the body is proposing to prosecute political parties and referendum campaign groups directly, rather than passing on potentially criminal cases to the police.

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The commission is said to be confident that it could alter the rules of enforcement itself, without legislation, in a matter of weeks.

But Mr Lewis told the Sunday Telegraph: “The Electoral Commission’s call to give itself more powers should be treated with caution.

“Questions need to be asked about the accuracy of the advice that the Electoral Commission has provided in the past, and their impartiality - given a senior member of their organisation has said they would ‘not want to live under a Tory government’.

“There are real risks to our democracy - from foreign interference to postal vote harvesting - and we need a regulator who is seen to be clear, impartial and fair in order to tackle these threats, not an even bigger quango.”

The Tories previously raised concerns in 2016 after Louise Edwards, now the commission's director of compliance, wrote on Facebook following David Cameron becoming PM in 2010: "Just can't understand what people were thinking - do they not remember the Tories before?"

A spokesperson for the Commission in 2016 responded saying the extracts “were taken five years prior to that employee joining the Commission and did not impact on any investigation”.

A commission spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph: "It’s disappointing to see a senior politician undermining a parliamentary body without having obtained a full view of the facts.

“We wrote to Brandon Lewis last week offering a meeting to discuss our planned prosecutions work and other matters, and look forward to that opportunity to ensure he is fully briefed.”