Labour demands 'urgent investigation' into the Conservatives after Boris Johnson's party declares donations from companies that don't exist

·4-min read
Labour demands 'urgent investigation' into the Conservatives after Boris Johnson's party declares donations from companies that don't exist
boris johnson donations conservative party
Boris Johnson. Getty
  • EXCLUSIVE: Labour says Electoral Commission must open "urgent investigation" into potentially illegal donations.

  • Insider reported that the Conservative Party received donations from nonexistent companies.

  • The commission has the power to impose fines of £20,000 per offense.

  • Advocates say that UK political-finance law needs strengthening.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Labour Party is calling on the UK's Electoral Commission to launch an "urgent investigation" into multiple potential breaches of the law by the Conservative Party, after an investigation by Insider revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's party had received tens of thousands of pounds from companies that no longer exist.

In a letter to Bob Posner, the commission's chief executive, on Tuesday, Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds called for an investigation to examine three donations totalling £20,000 made to the party by two companies, Stridewell Estates and Unionist Buildings.

Political-finance laws state that a company is a permissible donor only if it is registered under the Companies Act 2006, incorporated in the UK, and "carries on business in the United Kingdom."

The watchdog's enforcement policy allows for it to apply to the courts to seek forfeiture of impermissible donations "as well as or instead of" using a sanction. Under the law, the Electoral Commission can levy fines as a sanction of up to £20,000 per offense.

Dodds told the commission that the law on donations was "clear" and added "in relation to the requirement that companies carry on business in the UK, parties are advised by the Electoral Commission to check the Companies House website to see if the company is in liquidation, dormant, or about to be struck off - or if the company's accounts are overdue.

"While a company may still be carrying on business if it is in liquidation, dormant or late in filing documents, parties are advised to make extra checks to ensure this is the case. These include checking the latest accounts filed at Companies House."

Insider's investigation revealed that Electoral Commission records showed the Conservative Party had accepted a £10,000 donation from Stridewell Estates, whose director was the property magnate and Tory donor Brian Gillies, in November 2019, more than three years after the company was dissolved in November 2016.

A spokesperson for Stridewell Estates had previously told Insider that "there must be a mistake. ... It is very possible that the company that donated has been recorded incorrectly."

A £6,000 donation from Unionist Buildings was accepted by the local association of the Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton in June 2017, after the company was dissolved in January 2017 - and then a further £4,000 was registered by Morton in January 2020.

Dodds wrote: "I trust you will agree that these cases require urgent investigation to understand why companies that have been officially registered as dissolved by Companies House made thousands of pounds in donations to the Conservative Party and a sitting Conservative Member of Parliament.

"I trust that any breach of the rules will be immediately subject to your Enforcement Policy, as part of the vital work to uphold public trust and confidence in the rules upholding electoral finance."

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told Insider: "We can confirm we have received a letter from Anneliese Dodds MP, in her capacity as Chair of the Labour Party. We will respond shortly."

Advocates say political-finance laws and regulations need toughening.

Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, told Insider: "The rules on company donations make it far too easy for money of unknown provenance to enter UK politics. Parties should at least be checking to see if their corporate donors are at least 'carrying on business' in Britain, yet that's such a low hurdle to pass as to be next to meaningless.

"The law needs changing so political donations from companies can only derive from genuine commercial activities."

Insider's investigation also revealed nearly £10,000 donated to the Conservative Party from a company, Conservatives In, whose director at the time was Baroness Vere of Norbiton, now a junior transport minister.

After making the donation in December 2016, Vere filed for the company to be struck off in February 2017. Companies law requires directors to affirm when they apply for their company to be dissolved that the company has not "at any time in the previous three months ... traded or otherwise carried on business."

Insider has contacted the Conservatives for comment.

The Conservatives had previously told Insider: "Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them."

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