The finances of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party are to be investigated by the Electoral Commission after an intervention by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The watchdog body, which oversees UK electoral law, will today visit the offices of the new party after Mr Brown challenged them to investigate the source of its funding.
Addressing a rally of Scottish Labour members and European election candidates in Glasgow yesterday, Mr Brown said there could be “undeclared, unreported, untraceable payments being made to the Brexit Party”.
He raised the issue after it was revealed that the Brexit Party had a PayPal account for people donating less than £500 and that the party could not confirm where all donations originated.
And he called on the European Parliament to investigate reports that Mr Farage had received £450,000 from Euro-sceptic businessman Arron Banks while still an MEP and had not declared the money.
The Electoral Commission has now confirmed it will attend the Brexit Party offices to “review its systems”.
Mr Brown said: “Nigel Farage says this election is about democracy but democracy is undermined if we have undeclared, unreported, untraceable payments being made to the Brexit Party – if we have the potential for under-hand, under the counter payments being made.
“You know the history of this, Leave EU, Nigel Farage’s campaign is now under criminal investigation. There is three investigations – by the National Crime Agency, by the Metropolitan Police and by the Information Commissioner.
“Arron Banks, the lead funder of Leave EU, and a friend of Nigel Farage, has been under investigation. He’s made contacts with Russia and we don’t know where his money comes from, yet we found out last week he has given £450,000 in payments to support Nigel Farage while Nigel Farage was in a public office in the European Parliament who should have been declaring the payments that he was receiving from anyone to avoid a conflict of interest.”
He added: “Now we find the Brexit Party is a private company. You pay not to become a member but a supporter, and you pay through PayPal. And you cannot discover whether the
money is coming from foreign sources or British sources, indeed you can pay to this party in Russian roubles, American dollars, Malaysian ringgits and probably to his disdain Euros as well.
“He’s not going to be remembered, as he wants, as a man of the people, he’s going to be remembered as a man of the PayPal – because that’s where the money comes from.”
Mr Brown said that to retain trust in democracy the Electoral Commission needed to report on “where the money is coming from, who is getting the money and whether rules are being broken.
“The Electoral Commission says it does investigations during campaigns to see if people are breaking the rules so it’s quite possible for them, and I challenge them to do this, to say they are investigating.”
Mr Brown’s intervention came after Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice yesterday admitted that there was a PayPal account for people paying less than £500. “Above that we apply the appropriate Electoral Commission rules,” he said.
Asked if he could confirm whether the party takes cash from foreign citizens, Mr Tice said: “I don’t sit in front of the PayPal account all day so I don’t know what currencies people are paying in, but, as I understand it, the PayPal takes it in sterling.”
Under the rules governing donations, amounts below £500 do not have to be declared, however an official donation of £500 or more must be given by a “permissible donor”, who should either be somebody listed on the UK electoral roll or a business registered at Companies House and operating in the UK.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “The Brexit party, like all registered political parties, has to comply with laws that require any donation it accepts of over £500 to be from a permissible source. If there’s evidence that the law may have been broken, we will consider that in line with our enforcement policy.
“We have already been talking to the party about these issues. As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we are attending the Brexit party’s office to conduct a review of the systems it has in place to receive funds, including donations over £500 that have to be from the UK only.”
Responding to the Mr Brown’s comments, Mr Farage said: “Most of our money has been raised by people giving £25 to become registered supporters. And over 110,000 of them now have done that. And frankly, this smacks of jealousy because the other parties simply can’t do this.”