Downing Street is “deeply worried” about a police investigation currently underway into expenses claims for the last general election, which may result in some constituency results being declared void.
As many as 29 investigations have been opened into whether the Conservatives spent thousands of pounds more than the legal limit during the 2015 General Election. Constituencies investigated including at South Thanet, where the Conservatives scuppered Nigel Farage’s bid to enter Westminster, causing him to resign his leadership of the UK Independence Party.
Those investigations have now been whittled down to under a dozen, The Times has reported. It is thought that the South Thanet result is one of those still in question.
If police find the Conservatives did exceed the spending limit, the results of those constituency races will be declared void, prompting by-elections. Criminal charges may also be brought against key figures should prosecutors decide to make an example of the party.
“The problem for No 10 is that they do not know where this will end and they do not know who is leaking against them,” a Conservative source told the paper. “They are deeply worried about this.”
Another source close to No 10 added that the issue was “occupying as much as 20 per cent of non-governing head space”.
The issue emerged over a year ago when questions were raised over whether party officials were correct to allocate certain expenses to the national, rather than local, campaigns. Electoral rules set distinct limits for constituency campaigning and party campaigning at a national level which must be strictly adhered to.
Channel 4 News has suggested the successful South Thanet Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay spent £33,989 on his campaign, more than double the £14,838 declared on his forms and the official limit of just over £15,000.
Emails seen by Channel 4 within the last few weeks implicate the prime minister’s Chief of Staff Nick Timothy, suggesting he played a key part in Mr. Mackinlay’s campaign despite his hotel expenses being declared as national, not local, spending.
Had they been added to the candidate’s tally, they would have pushed Mr. Mackinlay over his spending limit.