Today’s rejection by the House of Commons of a key amendment to the National Security Bill leaves the forthcoming UK general election desperately vulnerable to interference by hostile states, kleptocrats and oligarchs.
Instead of bringing forward its own amendment to address the problem of illicit finance in our politics, the government has used its majority to whip Conservative Party MPs to vote down the Lords’ amendment by 254 votes to 134. This is despite the amendment’s backing from senior figures in the House of Lords – including Lord Evans, the former head of MI5, and Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation – when it was passed at report stage in March.
The amendment would have required UK political parties to publish and keep updated a policy statement to ensure the identification of donations from foreign powers (whether made directly or through an intermediary), and to provide an annual statement of risk management to the Electoral Commission that identified how risks relating to donations from foreign powers have been managed and what measures have been put in place. It also required the Home Secretary to publish guidance on these provisions.
There is widespread consensus among independent bodies and experts – including the Electoral Commission, the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Intelligence and Security Committee – that UK political finance is vulnerable to foreign interference and that the current checks and balances are not sufficient to prevent it. The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Julian Lewis, strongly supported the amendment in the Commons today, and argued that “the amendment is eminently reasonable; it shouldn’t be controversial for political parties to ensure the transparency of their foreign political donations.”
Dr Susan Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption, said: “The government’s strong words on tackling foreign influence and defending UK democracy ring very hollow today. This is a badly missed opportunity by the government to protect the next election from malign influences and make sure that political parties play their role in protecting the UK political system from dirty money.”
The amendment will now return to the House of Lords where Peers will decide whether to accept the government’s rejection of their amendment, or propose a different amendment.