SNP MEP Alyn Smith clearly went too far when he accused the Brexit Party of being “a shell company that’s a money-laundering front”. There is no evidence at all of money laundering and, after being threatened with legal action, Smith has now apologised, saying he spoke in the “heat of the moment”.
However, no one should think the Brexit Party is completely in the clear over its funding arrangements, given the Electoral Commission’s recent statement that the “fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations”. In essence, if Vladimir Putin, say, or anyone else is sending multiple donations of less than £500 via its online donation service, no one, not even the Brexit Party, would be able to tell because of the way it’s set up. Under election law, sums of more than £500 must come from someone on the UK electoral register or a UK-registered company.
Gordon Brown was among those to highlight the potential for the abuse of such a system and the Electoral Commission has made recommendations to the Brexit Party in order to help it “meet its legal responsibilities when it comes to receiving funds”, warning of enforcement action if it does not.
In previous years, a comment like Smith’s might have been seen as hyperbole, an over-the-top remark designed to make a point, not to be taken literally. But these are changed days. We live in a time when Donald Trump has, according to a Washington Post tally, made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims in 869 days as US President and when the current frontrunner to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister is Boris Johnson, a man sacked twice for dishonesty and a prominent supporter of the bogus idea that Brexit would save Britain £350 million a week.
Politicians are only human and we can all get a bit carried away at times, so Smith’s mistake was perhaps understandable. But with some world leaders turning the truth into a new political battleground – giving rise to sinister concepts like “implausible deniability” and “alternative facts” – it is absolutely vital that their opponents ensure they base their opinions on hard evidence.
Failing to do so only lets deliberate liars off the hook by giving the impression that all politicians are as bad as each other – and that is simply not true.