No Parliamentary Investigation Into Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Comments that Conservatives Introduced Voter ID to ‘Gerrymander’ Elections
The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Electoral Commission and Cabinet Office are not looking into remarks by a former member of the Government that introduced the controversial policy
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No investigation is underway into former Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg’s claims that Boris Johnson’s Government introduced mandatory voter ID in order to “gerrymander” elections in the Conservatives’ favour, Byline Times can reveal.
Rees-Mogg was part of Johnson’s Cabinet, which introduced plans to force voters to present photo ID at polling stations. He told the National Conservatism Conference earlier this month in London that the policy was a “clever scheme” by his party to swing voters in their favour.
But he said this had “backfired” due to more older Conservative voters being less aware of the changes at the recent local elections in England.
Initially referring to reports that Labour plans to lower the voting age to 16, he said: “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.”
The Conservative backbencher previously defended the controversial policy as Leader of the Commons and attacked Labour for opposing the policy with the allegation that it wants to “scurry for votes around and about”.
The Government has always justified the implementation of the policy by insisting that it is required to combat potential voter fraud. This is despite the fact that Electoral Commission figures show there have been just four proven cases of voter fraud since 2019, resulting in one conviction and three cautions.
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Probe Calls Ignored
Following Rees-Mogg’s comments, Labour MP Dawn Butler called for a parliamentary inquiry – and potentially a police investigation – and wrote to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to this effect.
But Byline Times can now reveal that there are no plans for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.
A Commons source suggested that the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner – which governs MPs’ behaviour in relation to the official Code of Conduct – would not be pursuing it because Butler had also raised Rees-Mogg’s comments in the Commons.
“They’re not going to do anything about it,” they told this newspaper. “I think [the authorities] are annoyed it was raised on the floor of the House. You’re not supposed to if you want an investigation. It’s ridiculous, but that’s Parliament for you.”
A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner told Byline Times: “A topic discussed in the Chamber, regarding conduct elsewhere, is not excluded from investigation by the Commissioner. Conduct in the Chamber is, however, excluded…
“This office does not comment on the conduct of individual MPs outside of the information published on our website.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, said: “The introduction of a voter ID requirement was debated and passed by the UK Parliament. Policy decisions are rightly a matter for Parliament and not the Electoral Commission. The Commission’s investigatory power only extend to political finance regulation.”
It is understood that the Cabinet Office will not be investigating the comments either.
Raised in the House
Dawn Butler told the Commons that she was “deeply troubled by the admissions from the former Leader of the House regarding voter ID” and that it “raises the question that ministers may have misled the public about the intention of their voter ID policy”.
“The former minister admitted that the policy was a deliberate effort to manipulate electoral outcomes to benefit the Conservative Party,” she said. “It’s deeply concerning to see the blatant politicisation of policy intended to ensure the fairness of and security of our democratic process.”
She also pointed to Omnisis polling for Byline Times which found that “the recent rules may have put off up to two million people from voting in the recent elections”.
“The justification for the policy was to combat voter fraud – it seems to me that the real fraud may be by this Government. Should I report this to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner or the police?” the MP asked.
But the Deputy Speaker of the Commons criticised Butler for raising the issue if she was also raising the matter with the Standards Commissioner. She said: “[Dawn Butler] shouldn’t really be raising it in the House if she’s reporting it to the Standards Commissioner and the police.”
The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner publishes a list of MPs currently under investigation for alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct. Jacob Rees-Mogg is not currently listed, though a spokesperson for the Commissioner’s office added: “If a matter is not included in the list, we cannot answer as to whether a complaint has been received.”
When asked by Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan to correct the record on the reasons for voter ID’s implementation, Conservative frontbencher Lee Rowley MP replied: “There is no record to correct. The successful introduction of voter identification in May’s elections was to ensure the future integrity of our voting system.
“Comments from elsewhere [Rees-Mogg’s claims] do not reflect the reality of the reason for the change and the administration of that change.”
He added: “It remains baffling to me and many millions of people around the country, that appropriate checks that the person casting a vote is who they indicate they are remains, in some way, controversial.
“It was not controversial when it was introduced into Northern Ireland in 2003 under a Labour Government. It was not controversial to the Liberal Democrats when, at the time and like the Conservatives, they supported it. It has not been controversial for Northern Irish elections since.”
Mandatory voter ID in Northern Ireland was introduced after hundreds of proven cases of personation fraud, unlike in Great Britain where there was not a single proven case in 2022.
The Government will be conducting an evaluation of the implementation of voter ID at the May elections with a report expected “no later” than November. The Electoral Commission will also publish an interim report in June before a full report on the May local elections later in the summer.
Update: This piece was amended on 24th May to include a quote from the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to note that conduct inside the chamber is excluded from the remit of their investigations.
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