We are writing to you to express our serious concerns about the conduct of the European Union referendum and its franchise.
As you know, Parliament decided that the franchise for this important referendum should be the same as for general elections with the addition of peers of the realm and citizens of Gibraltar. Parliament decided very clearly that EU citizens resident in the UK should not be able to cast a vote in this referendum to determine the UK’s membership of the EU. In September last year, the House of Commons voted against this by 496 to 54.
Nonetheless, we have been contacted by a number of concerned electors who have alerted us to the fact that ineligible EU citizens have been sent polling cards telling them that they have a vote in the referendum on 23 June. We have also seen media reports of this happening in other parts of the UK.
Most troublingly, we have seen the Electoral Commission’s press release, dated 1 June, which seeks to shrug this highly concerning development off, and which entirely misses the point. It contains a statement from an unnamed spokesperson that:
‘Anyone who applies to register must state their nationality as part of their application and this information is collected by their local Electoral Registration Officer (ERO). EROs are required to mark on their register who’s an EU national so that they do not receive poll cards for elections or referendums that they’re not eligible to vote in.’
In other words, there are no checks conducted to make sure anyone applying to vote is indeed eligible. We have seen an email from the Electoral Services Officer at Nottingham City Council to one of our supporters, which confirms this in clear and shocking terms:
‘If an elector lies during their registration, we are not able to check to see if the nationality is correct or not. We have to assume that the elector is submitting their correct nationality.’
We believe the British public will be as shocked as we are to discover that the integrity of the franchise for this long-awaited referendum with profound consequences for the future of our nation is being protected in such a lax manner. The Electoral Commission’s press release abdicates all responsibility for this highly concerning breach of the law, simply saying:
‘As part of the registration application process, all applicants are asked to give their nationality. It is an offence to knowingly give false information on a registration application. A person who knowingly provides false information could, in England and Wales, face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison. If anyone has evidence that an offence has been committed, they should contact the police.’
It is not good enough to expect people to report their friends, family or neighbours to the police if they believe they have been sent a polling card in error. Many of these people will have applied for a vote in good faith for one of the other elections in which they are entitled to vote (e.g. local elections or elections to the European Parliament) and could make the honest mistake of casting a vote in this referendum illegally.
This deeply disturbing news begs a number of urgent questions:
Can you confirm that no checks are conducted to verify someone’s nationality when they apply to join the electoral roll? Do you believe that is sensible?
What provisions are made to ensure that EU citizens who are entitled to vote at local or European elections are not sent polling cards or postal vote ballots for the EU referendum?
Given the many and widespread examples of these being sent to ineligible EU citizens, do you believe these safeguards are working?
The Electoral Commission says that: ‘A poll card does not entitle someone to vote. In order to be able to cast their vote, a person must appear on the electoral register and be shown on it as being eligible to vote.’ Given the apparent errors with the electoral roll which have led to the issuing of polling cards to ineligible voters, why should the public have greater confidence in this process?
Those checks only apply to people voting in person on 23 June. More than 7.5 million people choose to vote by post instead. It seems likely that ineligible EU citizens have been sent postal vote ballot papers and have already returned them. What steps can be taken to ensure that these ineligible postal votes are not counted?
The Government is campaigning for the EU to remain in ultimate control of UK laws. It has spent considerable sums of taxpayers’ money to achieve this and has coordinated its activities with the EU institutions and other governments around the world. Given the serious concerns that have been raised about the conduct of this referendum, what do you propose to do to correct the serious problems that have been identified?
What estimate do you have of the scale of this problem?
Will you make clear to EU nationals that they are not legally allowed to vote in this referendum and that doing so could be a criminal offence?
Given the gravity of this issue – and the fact that postal votes are already being issued and cast – we hope you will answer these questions by noon tomorrow. We are making this letter available to the press.
We are writing in similar terms to Jenny Watson, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, and have copied in the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP
Bernard Jenkin MP