The Prime Minister, who said on Sunday he was ‘lucky to live in a democracy’, was warned that the proposals in Number 10 could allow ministers to shape how election laws apply to their own party and to their political opponents.
In a strongly worded letter on Monday, the Electoral Commission redoubled its calls to scrap bills that could undermine its independence.
Its commissioners have written to Leveling Up secretary Michael Gove, warning him that the evolution of the Elections Bill would allow governments to influence the watchdog’s “operational functions and decision-making”.
Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner used the letter to allege Boris Johnson is “rigging our democracy for himself”.
The legislation, which also includes controversial plans to introduce voter identification, was backed by MPs and will be debated by the House of Lords this week.
Commissioners warned that the introduction of a ‘strategy and policy statement’ for the watchdog would allow ministers to influence its ‘oversight and enforcement of the political finance regime’ and advice to political parties and to activists.
The commissioners said: “This would thus provide a mechanism, driven by the party then in power, for ministers of that party to shape how the electoral law is applied to them and their political competitors.
“While the current government’s stated position is that it would not intend to use these powers to influence the commission’s independent oversight and regulation of the electoral system, no such assurance can be given. on how the broad reach of these powers would be used overtime.
“Strong accountability is essential for this, but so is demonstrable independence. The independent role of the commission in the electoral system must be clear to voters and campaigners, and preserved in electoral law.
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The letter – signed by nine of the 10 commissioners, minus Lord Gilbert, appointed by the Tories because of his role in the Lords – urged ministers to ‘rethink these measures’ and ‘remove the provisions’ in question.
The proposed changes come after an Electoral Commission investigation resulted in the Conservative Party being fined £17,800 for failing to properly declare a Tory peer’s £67,000 donation to cover lavish renovations to the Prime Minister’s apartment in Downing Street.
Rayner said: “The Elections Bill is undemocratic in many ways.
“Attacking institutions, allowing unchecked foreign money into British democracy and depriving so many of their rights.
“Boris Johnson is rigging our democracy for himself.”