The Overseas Electors Bill, which returns to the Commons today, has a sound purpose – to end the current limit on how long Britons can live abroad and still be able to vote.
But, whilst well-intentioned, the bill has could result in unintended consequences – unleashing a weakening of the rules around who funds our politics.
Alongside being able to vote, the bill proposes overseas Britons would also be able to donate to political parties. But removing the requirement of residency for political donations could create a loophole and flood our politics with unregulated cash, paving the way for foreign interests to influence our politics.
The Government must carefully consider the risks of allowing unfettered donations from abroad. Unscrupulous states will be looking for ways to steer our politics, meaning we should pause before opening the floodgates further.
The UK’s campaign finance rules have not been updated since 2000. Since then, we have seen mounting evidence that our elections are potentially exposed to interference.
In February, the Electoral Reform Society published a report – Reigning in the Political ‘Wild West’: Why We Need Campaign Rules for the 21st Century – calling for a comprehensive update to Britain’s ‘wild west’ party funding and campaigning rules.
Our election rules have not kept up with the shifting nature of political campaigning. That’s why we are working with FairVote and Stephen Kinnock MP to launch a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on electoral campaigning transparency to make that case for a comprehensive review of our outdated, loophole-ridden electoral laws.
There is a basic British principle that those funding our parties should be domiciled here – indeed it is in law but not enacted. Businesses donating to parties must generate revenue here, so it seems fair that individuals wishing to funnel in funds from abroad should be able to prove a consistent connection to the UK.
We need clear, consistent principles for the funding of our parties in the modern age. Our Parliament and parties should not be available to the highest bidders around the world.
Voters will not accept a situation where tax exiles and shell companies are able to exert a disproportionate sway over our politics. The Government should listen to these concerns and launch a comprehensive review of Britain’s loophole-ridden campaign rules.
Darren Hughes is chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society