Johnny Mercer, Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View, argued that mistakes in his expense claims were minor. His colleagues may not be able to rely on the same defence [Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA].

The fact that the Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 for wrongly declaring candidates’ expenses in the 2015 election tends to indicate that any claim that all candidates and agents correctly declared their spending is a lie.

Johnny Mercer’s comments merely confirm it. I wonder what kind of reprimand he will face?

And what are the implications for the other people who are currently MPs but are still under police investigation – or on whom files have been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service?

A successful prosecution requires proof that spending limits were breached – there should be no problem in this regard, as much of the evidence for this is public knowledge already.

The sticking-point is proving that a false declaration was made knowingly. Mr Mercer’s comments show he realised he made false declarations. Did he make any attempt to correct them? If not, he made them knowingly – or so it seems to This Writer.

That means many of the MPs who remain under suspicion may be in a highly actionable situation.

And let’s not forget that 12 files are already sitting with the CPS, waiting to be approved for prosecution.

A Conservative MP admitted in a police interview that some of his election expenses were wrong but excused the errors on the grounds that he had no previous political experience, according to a report on how police handled the inquiry.

Johnny Mercer, Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View, was investigated by police after the general election in 2015 and a file was handed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It was decided, however, that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with any offence.

A Devon and Cornwall police report from the time states that Mercer had acknowledged during an interview that “some of his claims had been wrong” but had argued that they were minor, did not take him over election spending limits and that this was understandable given his lack of political experience.

The admission calls into question the Conservative party’s claim that “the local agents of Conservative candidates correctly declared all local spending in the 2015 general election”.

Up to 20 of the party’s MPs are still the subject of police inquiries and 12 forces have handed files to the CPS, which is expected to come to decisions in the next few weeks on whether MPs or their agents should be charged.

The party has already been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for wrongly reporting national spending on the election campaign.

However, there is a high bar of evidence needed for prosecutions of candidates or their agents under the Representation of the People Act, with officers having to prove both that a false declaration was made knowingly and that prescribed spending limits were breached.

Source: Tory election spending: MP admitted to police some claims were wrong | Politics | The Guardian

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