Brexit panic will sideline charity voices, warns Friends of the Earth executive

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at the environmental group, also takes aim at the lobbying act at a fringe event at the Tory conference

Dave Timms
Dave Timms

The more panic there is in the approach to Britain leaving the European Union, the less chance there is that charity voices will be heard, Dave Timms, the head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, has warned.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week, Timms also took aim at the lobbying act, describing it as "a tax on democratic engagement".

He revealed that complying with the lobbying act added an extra 40 per cent to the amount the environmental charity spent on campaigning in the run-up to the last general election.

At the event, called Brexit Certainty and Civil Society: What Next?, Timms said: "The greater the panic there is as we go towards exit day the greater the chance there is that civil society will be shut out and we will make bad decisions."

Referring to the 650 MPs in the House of Commons, he said: "Civil society, after all, is the will of the people, convened in bite-size chunks to represent coalitions of interest, and shutting it out is bad because the collective brains of 60 million people will always make better decisions than just 650 of them."

Timms said that one thing the vote to leave the EU had demonstrated was that a significant portion of the population felt separated from mainstream political decision-making.

"People wanted to feel a more direct relationship with the rules that govern them, yet government is creating a less open and more closed polity than we need in order to bring the country together, and this could have serious consequences."

One example of this, he said, was the lobbying act, which limits the amount organisations can spend in the year before a general election and requires them to register with the Electoral Commission if they plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales on campaigning.

"The cost to Friends of the Earth of navigating this act has been immense," Timms said.

"At the last general election we calculated our regulated spend, the money we spent on campaigning, was £43,000, and the staff time spent complying with the act cost us £17,000 of our supporters’ money. In effect, it’s a tax on democratic engagement."

Rather than navigating the act’s "Byzantine, complicated provisions" many charities and civil society organisations were staying silent," he said.

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