Exceptional investigation work by journalist Carole Cadwalladr exposed the wide reaching implications of foreign interference during the EU referendum.
The referendum proved that the Electoral Commission’s tools for monitoring cyber manipulation are obsolete. I outlined these concerns back in April. There is powerful evidence that our electoral system remains more vulnerable than it has been at any time since 1880.
In Business Questions today the issue was raised, once again, with the Leader of the House of Commons.
Has the Leader of the House seen the very worrying series of openDemocracy reports this week on the role of dark money in the EU referendum, including revelations of illegal donations to the Democratic Unionist party and new questions today over the real wealth of Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Leave.EU? Given the widespread public concern about foreign, particularly Russian, interference in western democracies, will she assure the House that the Government and the Electoral Commission will examine these reports very carefully, and reassure our country that all the resources spent during the referendum were from permissible sources?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. Of course, any specific information should always be raised with the Electoral Commission to ensure that any wrongdoing is caught. I absolutely share his concern that we need to make sure that all donations are indeed permissible and legal.
While I am sure the answer was given in good faith, the answer the Leader of the House gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is untrue. The Electoral Commission has confessed that it has no mechanisms to find out whether there has been interference by cyber-techniques from Russia, by botnets and by artificial intelligence. These methods of distorting and buying elections have come in since the rules for the Electoral Commission were laid down. We must look seriously at this issue. I recommend the Leader of the House reads the journalism of Carole Cadwalladr, who has named precisely the organisations that may well have rigged the result of the referendum, because we know it is in Russia’s interests to destabilise Europe.
Just to be very clear to the hon. Gentleman, I was not suggesting that the Electoral Commission should investigate; I was merely saying that information should be reported to the Electoral Commission, as indeed it has been in all areas of fraud, misuse of voting and so on. The Electoral Commission should then be in a position to bring in the legal and police services, should it decide there is a case to answer. It is very important that as much evidence as possible is brought forward and not just left as rumours and accusations. These things need to be investigated properly to make sure our electoral system remains as free and fair as we all hope it is today.