Conservative Diary

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The Electoral Commission rules Lord Ashcroft's firm's donations to the Tories as "legal and permissible"

The BBC is reporting the following:

"The Electoral Commission has cleared as legal £5.1m of donations to the Conservatives from a firm belonging to Lord Ashcroft after an 18 month probe. The commission has ruled that the donations by Bearwood Corporate Services were "legal and permissible", the BBC understands."

More will follow if and when there are further statements.

1.15pm update:

The Electoral Commission has published its report and its chairman, Jenny Watson, has made the following statement:

"The law requires that to be a permissible donor, a company must be registered at Companies House, or incorporated in the EU, and carrying on business in the UK.  The Commission has concluded that Bearwood Corporate Services Limited met those tests. We also looked carefully at whether BCS acted as an agent for anyone else when making the donations, and considered that, on the evidence before the Commission, there is no basis to conclude that the donor was anyone other than BCS.”

A Conservative spokesman reacted as follows:

“Following an 18 month investigation, the Electoral Commission has definitively concluded that donations made by Bearwood, the company in which Lord Ashcroft has an interest, were legal, permissible and correctly reported. It has now been put beyond doubt that donations from Bearwood were entirely legitimate.

“Separately, we also know that Lord Ashcroft is non-domiciled, putting him in exactly the same position as Labour and Lib Dem donors such as Lord Paul. This means the Conservative Party’s clean bill of health with the Electoral Commission remains fully intact.

“It is now clear that the continuing attacks on Michael Ashcroft are part of a politically motivated campaign orchestrated by the Labour Party in advance of the general election in order to distract attention from the real issues facing this country.”

2.45pm update: Channel 4 News reports that Liam Fox has said that it was only "within the last month" that David Cameron knew about Lord Ashcroft's tax status.

3.30pm update: The Public Administration Committee's "one-off inquiry" into "the Lord Ashcroft affair" on March 18th is to be boycotted by the three Conservative MPs on the committee, according to ITN's Lucy Manning. She Tweets that the three Tories on the committee, David Burrowes, Ian Liddell-Grainger and Charles Walker, are saying that the session is a "political tactic motivated by narrow partisan interests". The announcement that the committee was to hold the session came from committee member and Labour MP, Gordon Prentice, a long-standing critic of Lord Ashcroft. 

David Burrowes has confirmed to me that the trio will indeed not be attending the session, because they don't want to be part of a "political circus" which goes beyond the remit of the select committee. He did say that a case could be made for a broader and balanced inquiry which could look in a non-partisan way at issues surrounding peerages, appointments to the Privy Council and so on, but that this needed to happen in a balanced way, considering cases relating to all politicla parties.

Jonathan Isaby


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