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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Tories to neuter watchdog investigating Johnson's flat

The Mirror reports that the Tories have announced plans to place constraints on the Electoral Commission, which has been investigating the funding of Boris Johnson's flat refurbishment. The Commission believe that the plan to strip it of its powers will 'fetter' its ability to do the job it was set up for:

The agency overseeing election financing stressed the importance that its "independence is preserved" as ministers announced the plans on Thursday.

Constitution minister Chloe Smith said the proposal would ensure the commission is "fully accountable to Parliament" and would provide "clarity in law" that the watchdog "should not bring criminal prosecutions".

The proposals come after senior Tory MPs criticised the commission while it investigates the Conservative Party over the refurbishments of Boris Johnson's official flat.

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: "Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the commission's activities are essential in ensuring the commission commands trust and confidence.

"It is important, however, that the commission's independence is preserved and that it is able to continue to deliver all duties within its remit, including effective enforcement.

"Some changes announced today place a fetter on the commission which would limit its activity. We will work with the Government to explore these areas."

As well as the block on prosecutions, concerns have also been stoked over the plan to introduce a strategic statement of priorities for the commission.

Ms Smith, in a written statement to the Commons, said the watchdog has in recent years sought to "develop the capability to bring criminal offences before the courts".

"This has never been agreed by the Government or Parliament," Ms Smith wrote.

"Having the Electoral Commission step into this space would risk wasting public money as well as present potential conflicts of interest for a body responsible for providing advice and guidance on electoral law to initiate proceedings which might depend on the very advice that was given.

There is no doubt that the Electoral Commission needs reform, but it needs more powers not fewer, and the ability to levy fines that will actually deter dodgy practices.
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