MP Ian Lucas asks why Boris Johnson and his team will not appear before Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to answer his important questions about electoral law.
Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings were all central characters in Vote Leave, the official campaign for the UK to leave the EU in 2016. That campaign broke the law.
The elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, fined Vote Leave £61,000. This has now been paid and they have thereby admitted their offences.
The offences were not minor. They involved deliberate collusion between different Leave campaigns to avoid restrictions on campaign expenditure. Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave and now Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, is quoted extensively in the evidence produced by the Electoral Commission to substantiate the offences.
In addition, the watchdog referred further matters relating to false declarations by Vote Leave to the police for investigation. That investigation continues.
Two unresolved investigations, by the Metropolitan Police and Information Commissioner, are outstanding.
Michael Gove, the co-convener of Vote Leave’s campaign committee has admitted, in an interview with Sky News, that he knew of the payments giving rise to the electoral offences. But, he has refused to disclose to me the date he found out about them or who told him – despite repeated questions from me in the House of Commons chamber and in writing.
In addition, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee, of which I am a member, has secured evidence which suggests data sharing between different Leave organisations, including Vote Leave, in the 2016 Referendum. The evidence also indicates that data may have been shared between Leave organisations and Michael Gove’s 2016 campaign for the Conservative Party leadership. This is currently being investigated by the Information Commissioner. If established, such data sharing could be illegal.
Thus, we know that, not only did Vote Leave commit electoral offences, but it is subject to two continuing investigations into its 2016 campaign.
The DCMS Select Committee wanted to question Dominic Cummings about these matters to get answers – but he refused to give evidence. He was found to be in contempt of Parliament earlier this year for this refusal, but was swiftly appointed as a political advisor to Johnson after he became Prime Minister.
The Committee wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to direct Cummings to give evidence, but he has refused to do so. So, we have a situation where the Prime Minister is obstructing a parliamentary inquiry.
Michael Gove is now the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, the department with conduct of the Electoral Integrity Bill. I have put these questions about his role in Vote Leave to him many times, but he refuses to answer. He is so keen to avoid questions on his role in Vote Leave that, following my questions, he now denies responsibility for data protection and electoral issues in his own department.
Three years on from the Vote Leave campaign, Johnson, Gove and Cummings are running our country – and are about to take us out of the EU on the basis of a referendum in which electoral offences were committed and two unresolved investigations, by the Metropolitan Police and Information Commissioner, are outstanding.
I find these issues deeply troubling and have spent recent months highlighting my concerns, with speeches and interventions in the Commons and a series of letters to the Prime Minister, Gove, the Information Commissioner and the Cabinet Office. I have given Johnson, Gove and Cummings every opportunity to answer but they have not done so.
We have a situation where the Prime Minister is obstructing a parliamentary inquiry.
We are now in the run-up to a General Election. We know from independent sources such as the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner that our electoral law needs change. We also know that wrongdoing was committed by Vote Leave during the 2016 Referendum campaign. Three of the people who held key positions in that campaign are now running the Government.
How can we have any faith in them to cure the glaring defects in our electoral law and why won’t they answer my questions?