Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham 4:00 pm, 26th September 2019

I was last elected in 2017 on a Labour manifesto to leave the European Union. Just before that general election I voted for article 50, and subsequently I voted for two different versions of leaving the EU, neither of which were passed by this House. I voted against the previous Prime Minister’s deal because I thought that it undermined the integrity of the UK. Despite the fact that I voted remain in the referendum, on a number of occasions I have voted to leave the European Union, as we all know what the result in the country showed.

Given the time limit, I wish to direct my remarks at the integrity of the Vote Leave campaign and those who ran it, including the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office—I have notified them both that I will refer to them in this speech—as well as Dominic Cummings who advises them, because I think that their conduct and the Vote Leave campaign undermines the vote that took place in 2016. For around two years, I have worked on an inquiry by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into disinformation and fake news, and I now have a detailed knowledge of the actions of the Vote Leave campaign, which I did not have when I voted to leave the European Union in this House.

The Vote Leave campaign broke electoral law by conspiring to break campaign spending limits. It did so in a document produced by the Electoral Commission that refers to emails and information from Dominic Cummings. He was working as the campaign director for the Vote Leave campaign, and he conspired with another organisation, suggesting the following:

“However, there is another organisation that could spend your money. Would you be willing to send the 100k to some social media ninjas who could usefully spend it on behalf of this organisation? I am very confident it would be well spent in the final crucial 5 days. Obviously it would be entirely legal.”

In fact, it was entirely illegal and the Vote Leave campaign was found to have committed an electoral offence. The illegality of the Vote Leave campaign meant that it was fined, and those fines were accepted by the campaign itself. Unlike in general elections, breaking the law in a referendum campaign does not overturn the result; it simply imposes a financial penalty.

The DCMS Committee wanted to speak to Mr Cummings, because his evidence is directly relevant to the inquiry and work that we have been carrying out. We wished to speak to him about the relationship with a Canadian company called AggregateIQ, and we asked him to speak to us and give us information. He was found to be in contempt of Parliament because he refused to come and give evidence. He disrespected Parliament. When he was appointed as the Prime Minister’s adviser, after he had been found in contempt of Parliament, the Committee wrote again, asking the Prime Minister to instruct Mr Cummings to give evidence. The Prime Minister has refused and is thereby obstructing a parliamentary inquiry. That is the conduct of the Prime Minister and it shows real disrespect to Parliament.

We also know that the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, who was a co-convener of the campaign, is now in charge of electoral reform and data protection in the Cabinet Office—at least I thought that was the case. Yesterday, I asked him whether he had overall control of all the matters in his Department, and he said he was not in control of data protection or electoral matters, which is very odd, because they are situated in his Department.

Even more extraordinary was that when I checked the Cabinet Office website today I saw that it had changed since yesterday. The Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office has deliberately taken steps to avoid responsibility for the role that he played in the Vote Leave campaign. That is mendacious, to quote David Cameron, and the Secretary of State needs to come to the Chamber urgently to explain his role in the Vote Leave campaign and what was involved.