Electoral Commission to be stripped of power to prosecute after probe into Boris Johnson’s flat makeover

Electoral Commission to be stripped of power to prosecute after probe into Boris Johnson’s flat makeover
Condemnation of ‘government power grab’ – as minister claims prosecutions of alleged lawbreaking ‘waste public money’

Boris Johnson is to strip the Electoral Commission of the power to prosecute law-breaking, just weeks after it launched an investigation into his controversial flat refurbishment.

The watchdog has been threatened with curbs ever since it embarrassed senior Tory figures by fining Vote Leave for busting spending limits for the Brexit referendum.

Now ministers have announced that a new Elections Bill will remove its ability to prosecute criminal offences under electoral law – arguing it “wastes public money”.

The watchdog launched an immediate protest, warning the move would “place a fetter on the Commission which would limit its activity”.

And the shake-up was condemned as a “thinly-veiled government power grab” by the Electoral Reform Society.

Parliament’s standards chief has stepped back from her own probe into flat makeover – which saw a Tory donor originally fund the lavish redecoration – while the Commission does its work.

Amid that furore, it was widely anticipated that the government would back away from changes that would be seen as enfeebling the Commission.

But Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, insisted “the proper place for criminal investigations and prosecutions relating to electoral law is with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service”.

“In recent years, the Electoral Commission has sought to develop the capability to bring criminal offences before the courts,” she said.

“This has never been agreed by the government or Parliament.

“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.”

Jess Garland, the Electoral Reform Society’s policy director, said: “The government is on the one hand creating new rules for the Electoral Commission to enforce – while at the same time reducing its independence, extending political influence over what should be a neutral body,” said.

“The Electoral Commission is the UK’s number one experts on Britain’s complex electoral law, so it is vital it retains the ability to raise alleged wrongdoing in the courts.”

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