EU election Facebook spend could be as 'dodgy' as the referendum, warns peer
PUBLISHED: 16:26 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:34 10 May 2019
A senior peer has warned of attempts to "distort" the EU elections as "shadowy" pro-Brexit organisations outspend all political parties on Facebook.
Lord Tyler, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on constitutional and political reform, said foreign interference in elections and referendums was an "emergency".
"Shadowy campaign organisations are already spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on Brexit messages on digital media and nobody seems to know where their money is coming from," he said.
He was jeered when he added that the May 23 election could be as "dodgy" as the 2016 referendum.
The government has announced plans to introduce new laws to protect elections and referendums in the UK from the risk of interference by foreign powers.
Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Young of Cookham said the UK had a "robust" electoral system with processes to defend it and ongoing work to ensure elections remained secure.
He said ministers were committed to protecting electoral and democratic processes from foreign interference by strengthening its resilience.
But Lord Tyler said the Government's response so far was "too little, too late".
He said: "Just two, Britain's Future and The 52%, have outspent all the political parties clearly seeking to distort the poll in just 14 days' time."
He also raised concerns about the Brexit Party's transparency over its major donors.
READ: Nigel Farage says identity of Brexit Party's £100K donor is 'irrelevant'
The Electoral Commission publishes the names of major party donors quarterly, and will publish details of accepted donations from the first quarter of 2019 on May 30.
Labour ex-minister Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said this is far too late, and called for action to ensure sources of finance were legitimate and came from the UK.
Lord Young denied there was any evidence of successful interference in our electoral processes, and said that only 16,000 people were reached through 105 Russian accounts during the referendum campaign.
Nonetheless, he said £1.9 billion had been invested in a national cyber security strategy to resist interference in the electoral process.
"While we don't believe there has been an abuse, we are anxious to be ahead of the game and considering increasing transparency on digital political advertising, closing loopholes on foreign spending in elections and preventing shell companies sidestepping the current rules on political finance," he said.
Tory former cabinet minister Lord King of Bridgwater said it was no secret where a lot of the foreign interference was coming from.
The outcome of the last US presidential election and the EU referendum in the UK gave "no unhappiness" to Moscow.
Lord King called for the strongest representations to be made to the Russian government that such conduct is "absolutely unacceptable".
Labour's Lord Grocott urged maximum transparency also for the "well-financed" organisations whose aim was to reverse the result of the referendum.