Britain’s election watchdog has announced it will be visiting the Brexit Party headquarters within the next 24 hours and begin an urgent probe of donations to Nigel Farage’s new party.
The investigation has been launched just days before the party officially launched in April is tipped to win the most seats in the European Parliamentary elections.
The probe comes as the party’s chairman Richard Tice today repeatedly failed to say whether the party was accepting foreign funding and a former prime minister dubbed Nigel Farage a “man of the Paypal.”
An Electoral Commission confirmed: “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. We have already been talking to the party about these issues.
“As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we are attending the Brexit Party’s office tomorrow to conduct a review of the systems it has in place to receive funds, including donations over £500 that have to be from the UK only.
“If there’s evidence that the law may have been broken, we will consider that in line with our Enforcement Policy.”
Earlier, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech saying he was calling on the electoral watchdog to launch an urgent probe of whether “dirty money” was entering British politics.
After it was revealed that the Brexit Party website allowed donations of £500 via Paypal with no identity checks, and Nigel Farage had accepted £450,000 in donations from the opaque Leave campaign bankroller Aaron Banks while in office at the European Parliament, the former Labour Prime Minister said Farage would not be remembered as a “man of the people” but instead “the man of the Paypal.”
“The Brexit Party that has been formed is not a party it’s actually a private company. It does not have members, it has shareholders. The key shareholder with the controlling interest is Nigel Farage,” said Gordon Brown.
“And you pay money not to become a member but to become a supporter and you pay through Paypal. And you cannot discover whether the money is coming from foreign sources or British sources, indeed you can pay to this party in Russian roubles, American dollars, Malaysian ringgits and probably to his disdain Euros as well.
“If this election is about trust in democracy the Electoral Commission has the power to tell us if they’ve had questions answered about where the money is coming from, who is getting the money and whether rules are being broken.”
“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,” said Brown.
“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.”
“The Electoral Commission and the European Parliament should now investigate the finances of Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party.
“Democracy is undermined when we have undeclared, unreported, untraceable payments being made to the Brexit Party.
“We have the potential for underhand and under-the-counter payments being made.
“You know the history of this – Leave.EU, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks’ campaign is now under criminal investigation.
“There’s three investigations – one by the National Crime Agency, one by the Met Police and one by the Information Commissioner.
“Arron Banks, the lead funder of Leave.EU and the friend of Nigel Farage has been under investigation – he has made contacts with Russia. We don’t know where his money comes from.
“And yet we find out last week that he has given £450,000 in payments to support Nigel Farage, while Nigel Farage was in a public office in the European Parliament, who should have been declaring the payments that he was receiving from anyone to avoid any conflicts of interest.”
The Brexit Party leader hit back, accusing the former PM of an “absolutely disgusting smear” against his party.
“How dare he?” Mr Farage snapped on a campaign visit to Exeter.
“Most of our money has been raised by people giving £25 to become registered supporters and nearly 110,000 of them now have done that.
“Frankly, this smacks of jealousy because the other parties simply can’t do this.
“How open can we be? What you have got here are the conspiracy theorists doing their utmost to try and delegitimise what is the fastest-growing political movement this country has ever seen.”
Farage had previously boasted donations of £100,000 a day and taking on extra staff just to process donations.
This morning the Brexit Party chairman refused repeatedly to say the party had not received foreign funds.
Richard Tice was asked three times by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, if foreign funds could be among £2.5million in small Paypal donations which were not being checked.
Tice refused to rule that out, instead also snapping back that people pointing this out were “jealous.”