- Boris Johnson’s government is proposing a new law that would make it easier for non-resident Brits to fund elections in the UK.
- The law change is being sold as a means to make it easier for British “ex-pats” to vote in the UK.
- However, campaigners say it is a “Trojan horse” for more foreign money to fund UK elections.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The UK government is bringing in a new law that will make it much easier for British elections to be funded by tax exiles and non-domiciled Brits, campaigners have warned.
The Elections Bill, published on Monday, would allow UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years to join the electoral register, giving them a lifetime right to both vote in and fund elections in the UK.
Under the new rules, overseas voters would not have had to previously appear on any electoral register in the UK in order to vote or donate to political parties.
Since 2009, legislation has sat inactive on the UK’s statute books that would forbid donations from non-domiciled UK citizens.
However, the law has never been brought into force, as the non-domiciled tax status of individuals is confidential and so cannot be verified by regulators or political parties, the Times reported in 2019.
British citizens living abroad can already make donations through UK registered companies that are ultimately owned offshore – and anyone can donate through shadowy unincorporated associations without checks. However, overseas voters currently have to re-register on an annual basis.
The governing Conservative Party accepted more than £1 million from UK citizens living in tax havens ahead of the 2017 general election through existing methods, the Times reported. The new law will remove these barriers.
Cat Smith MP, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow Minister for Democracy, told Insider: “The Conservatives are using the cover of the pandemic to sneak through unprecedented changes to our foreign political donation laws.
“This is yet another example of the Conservatives bending the rules to benefit themselves, making it legal for rich Conservative donors living overseas to bankroll the Conservative Party.
“This loophole will allow foreign political donations to flood our system, undermining the integrity of our democracy. This is all about changing the rules to benefit the Conservative Party with overseas donors able to legally donate to bankroll their campaigns from their offshore tax havens or luxury second homes.
“Foreign donors should not be allowed to financially influence our democratic processes – that right is reserved for citizens living in this country.”
Campaigners warn the bill is being used as a “trojan horse” to funnel financial donations from non-domiciled sources and that it is opening up British politics to “outside influence”.
Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy and a former Liberal Democrat MP, told Insider: “The Elections Bill mustn’t be used as a trojan horse to allow foreign based money to distort UK election results. If wealthy non-doms start making substantial financial donations, questions will be asked about representation without taxation.”
Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society told Insider: “Extending the franchise for our elections is a positive move but the government must carefully consider the risks of removing restrictions on overseas electors – the consequence of which could see a rise in foreign political donations.
“There remain a number of loopholes in our election finance rules which leave the door open for foreign influence on our politics. This Elections bill fails to address these concerns whilst potentially creating new avenues for foreign financial donations.
The government defended the law change as an attempt to widen the voting franchise.
Chloe Smith MP, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution, told Insider: “Our commitment to scrapping the arbitrary 15 year limit to overseas voting rights is a promise to citizens across the political spectrum. This is best exemplified by 99 year old veteran campaigner, Harry Shindler, who also happens to be the oldest serving member of the Labour Party.
“British citizens living overseas have an ongoing interest in politics in the United Kingdom and in our increasingly digital world, people living overseas are able to be more connected to their home country. It is only right that they are able to have their say in our democracy.”