Once again, those who champion free speech become the first to reach for their lawyers: after SNP MEP Alyn Smith had claimed that the Brexit Party, latest personal vehicle for the ego of Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, was a “shell company that’s a money laundering front”, the party’s perma-tanned and perma-smiling chairman Richard Tice initiated a defamation action, which has now concluded.
Smith has backed down, agreed to donate to a charity in lieu of damages, and pay a sum in respect of legal costs. He has also issued an apology. To no surprise at all, this event has been lauded by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, another champion of free speech who, as Zelo Street regulars will know, also resorts to legal threats when he feels his “reputation” has been slighted.
Squeaky funding question finger up the bum time
And that is not the only problem with this case: as Jolyon Maugham has noted, Tice was not mentioned in Smith’s allegation, and nor was any other officer of the Brexit Party. Also, the Brexit Party as a body cannot sue, the precedent case being Goldsmith v Bhoyrul 1998. He also cites the precedent of Tilbrook v Parr 2010 as evidence that Tice would have most likely failed, had he pressed his claim against Smith.
Moreover, although (for instance) I have no evidence that the Brexit Party is involved in money laundering, it’s a near certainty that the Brexit Party and/or its officers have no evidence that it is not. As the BBC reported last week, “The Brexit Party's online funding system left it open to ‘a high and on-going risk' of impermissible donations, the Electoral Commission says”. This followed concerns about possible multiple donations.
That article continues “Under UK law, donations of £500 or above must be made by a ‘permissible donor’ - someone who is listed on the electoral register or a company registered in the UK. Amounts below that do not have to be declared, but some critics - among them ex-PM Gordon Brown - have said there is no way of telling whether those smaller amounts come from British or foreign sources”.
The impression is given, especially after Tice’s comment “Others take note”, and the Fawkes rabble’s equally threatening “Carole Cadwalladr and all the Remainiacs on Twitter making unfounded allegations should take note”, that this is little more than the well-off indulging in a little legal bullying. Or, put another way, censorship of free speech.
As Maugham has put it, “In other words - despite the Brexit Party's attempt to suppress criticism of its highly dubious and I think illegal funding practices - you can safely crack on and subject them to proper scrutiny. Don't be bullied into quiet by the mega-wealthy and their libel lawyers”. This blog certainly won’t be. And nor will Ms Cadwalladr.
After all, the undue haste with which Richard Tice has reached for his lawyers only fuels the suspicion that someone not too far away from the Brexit Party may have something to hide. And no amount of legal bullying is going to make that suspicion go away.
Nor is the stench of hypocrisy going to dissipate: the far-right once again talks the free speech talk, but walks the walk directly towards authoritarianism. It was ever thus.
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