Former prime minister Gordon Brown has called for an urgent investigation into the funding of the Brexit Party.
In a speech in Glasgow Brown has asked whether sufficient safeguards are in place to protect against “dirty money” donated by foreign actors attempting to influence UK politics.
Brown warned “American and Russian techniques of election manipulation” could be being “imported” as he suggested they had been during the original EU referendum.
He says: “I have written to the Electoral Commission, who have a duty to monitor every UK party’s election finance and spending, demanding Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party be investigated, and I am asking the European Parliament to investigate his failure to declare income where there are potential conflicts of interest.
“Given what we know of the Brexit campaign of 2016, it is important that American and Russian techniques of election manipulation are not imported into the UK.
“And that, instead of waiting years to discover the true sources of funding and whether campaign finance is being legitimately received and used, we ask and answer these questions that are vital to the health of our democracy.”
Brown attacked Nigel Farage’s party for possible “under-the-counter and underhand” campaign financing ahead of the European elections, when the Brexit Party is expected to sweep up the largest amount of votes.
He highlights that the electoral watchdog had “warned of the dangers” of large amounts of cash being funnelled to parties in multiple small donations and linked this to the Brexit Party’s funding model, and the former Labour MP says he believes that, far from protecting democracy, Farage’s party could be used to “fatally undermine… the heart of our democratic system”.
“Nigel Farage says this election is about democracy.
“Democracy is fatally undermined if unexplained, unreported and thus undeclared, and perhaps under-the-counter and underhand, campaign finance – from whom and from where we do not know – is being used to influence the very elections that are at the heart of our democratic system.
“And there are immediate reasons why an investigation is now urgent and essential.”
Brown flags up that the Leave.EU campaign is the subject of a criminal investigation by the National Crime Agency, and there are two other investigations by the Metropolitan Police and the Information Commissioner.
He claims that there is a potential conflict of interest with Arron Banks, who he will say “has admitted he has secretly funded at least £450,000 of Farage’s lifestyle” while he was an MEP.
He said: “We don’t know where his money comes from.”
He adds: “Now Mr Farage heads a new Brexit party, which is making questionable claims about the true source of its funding at a time when the Electoral Commission has warned of the dangers of multiple, small, anonymous donations being a cover for dirty money.”
He joked: “He won’t be remembered as a man of the people, he’ll be remembered as a man of the PayPal.”
Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice initially tried to dismiss the issue as “utterly ridiculous” before admitting he was not on top of whether there were foreign donors.
When asked whether the Brexit Party was taking “under-the-counter, underhand” donations by Radio 4, Tice said: “This really is utterly ridiculous.
“People are just jealous of our success and the fact we’re on course to win these elections.
“We’ve got a Paypal account for people paying less than £500; above that we apply the appropriate Electoral Commission rules.”
Asked whether he had just confirmed that the party did take cash from foreign citizens, Tice said: “I don’t sit in front of the PayPal account all day so I don’t know what currencies people are paying in, but, as I understand it, the PayPal takes it in sterling.”
A spokesman for the Electoral Commission told the Press Association it did not rule out an investigation being launched to tackle concerns.
He said: “The Brexit Party, like all registered political parties, has to comply with laws that require any donation it accepts of over £500 to be from a permissible source.
“It is also subject to rules for reporting donations, loans, campaign spending and end-of-year accounts.
“These rules are in place to ensure fairness and transparency of all political party finance.
“As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we talk regularly to parties, including the Brexit Party, about ensuring they have robust systems in place so that they comply with the law.
“If we see evidence to suggest the rules have been broken, we will consider it in line with our enforcement policy.”