A Tory Brexiteer has claimed that the Electoral Commission “hated Leave campaigners'” claiming he had never before encountered “an organisation that was maliciously undermining the democratic process and attacking individuals because of their political views”.
Peter Bone made an intervention as MPs were asked to approve the appointment of Alex Attwood, an SDLP former environment minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, as an electoral commissioner.
He asked Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg why Attwood was being appointed for a three-year term, instead of a two-year term, as “it would have seemed to me, given the state of affairs at the Electoral Commission, that the term should have been shorter”.
He said in all his political life he had never before encountered “an organisation that was maliciously undermining the democratic process and attacking individuals because of their political views”.
He told the Commons: “Now let’s remember this point, that the responsible people are not politicians, they’re not Peter Bones’, they’re not Aaron Banks’, they’re just people who want to be involved in the political process and have knowledge of how to do campaign returns.
“Anyone who thinks the Electoral Commission treated those people fairly either has no idea of what happened or is not telling the truth.
“Many of these people had their health severely damaged, their reputation tarnished, their finances destroyed by having to raise thousands and thousands of pounds to fight the Electoral Commission.
“And every time those people won and not a single one of them was ever charged with anything. They were honest, decent people who were attacked by the state through the Electoral Commission and I want to know from Mr Attwood what he thinks about that, as I do the other commissioners when we get a chance.”
He added: “We were dragged through months and months and months of an inquiry by a commission whose only reason to do it was they hated Leave campaigners.”
Rees Mogg replied: “I think it’s not unjustifiable to raise these concerns, but that is not the issue for tonight’s vote.
“It is, of course, important that the Electoral Commission should be impartial in its judgments, it is of course crucially important that people should have confidence in it when it is involved in a referendum, whether that be a referendum as in 2014 which we know settled things for a generation or one in 2016 which settled our relationship with the European Union.
“If people don’t have confidence in the Electoral Commission, to be fair regardless which side of the debate you’re on, if they don’t have that confidence then it is a risk for our democracy.
“So it is important that the Electoral Commission should hear this debate and should respond to the important points raised by (Bone) because that confidence is of fundamental importance.”