A senior QC who accused the election watchdog of “gross” legal errors is being lined up to chair the body, The Telegraph can reveal.
Senior Tories are touting Timothy Straker as a replacement for Sir John Holmes, a former diplomat who is being forced to stand down at the end of a controversial four-year term.
Mr Straker, 65, had previously advised the Electoral Commission before representing the official Vote Leave campaign in a series of skirmishes with the body.
Sir John’s successor will be chosen by a committee of MPs but, under electoral law, cannot be a member of a political party or anyone who has recently served as a Member of Parliament.
Senior figures in Number 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are understood to have held discussions about the possibility of Mr Straker taking over from Sir John.
A source described the QC as a “neutral arbiter” who is “steeped in electoral law” after working in the field for several decades.
However, his appointment would be likely to be resisted by anti-Brexit campaigners because of his work acting for the Vote Leave campaign in the wake of the 2016 referendum.
Mr Straker, who has acted for returning officers across the country, has become a fierce critic of the Electoral Commission and spoke out against the body’s plans to attempt to hand itself powers to prosecute political parties.
Last week, The Telegraph disclosed that MPs on the Speaker’s committee on the Electoral Commission had denied Sir John’s request to extend his four-year term beyond December. His predecessor served for two terms, totalling eight years. A public recruitment campaign is expected to begin shortly.
The commission has also now decided to “pause” controversial plans to acquire powers to prosecute scores of criminal offences itself rather than referring suspected breaches to the police and Crown Prosecution Service.
In a submission to Whitehall’s committee on standards in public life in August, Mr Straker said the commission should be stripped of some of its existing enforcement powers having made “gross errors”, including one which he claimed would have been avoided by a first year law student.
As well as previously acting for Vote Leave, Mr Straker, the head of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square chambers, represented Darren Grimes, the pro-Brexit campaigner who described the commission as a “kangaroo court” after the Metropolitan Police ended an investigation into his activities two years after a referral by the commission.
This weekend, Mr Straker said: “I am conscious that some people have been suggesting my name as suitable for the Electoral Commission role, and I am flattered by that.
“I have always been wholly independent in everything I have done as far as election work is concerned, and I think there are big improvements that can be made to our electoral system. I would very seriously consider this, but would want to know the status of the role and my ability to continue to practise independently at the Bar.”
The Conservatives have raised “serious concerns” about the leadership and accountability of the Electoral Commission over its proposals to acquire the new powers. Amanda Milling, the party chairman, said that would have amounted to the body “marking its own homework“.
Sir John faced criticism when The Telegraph revealed in 2018 that, months after being nominated as the body’s chairman, he said in a speech that he “regret[ted] the result” of the Brexit referendum and complained about “the panoply of Eurosceptic nonsense about the EU” heard during the campaign.
Brexiteers have repeatedly accused the commission of bias against pro-Leave campaigners
The commission insists that it carries out its work “to the highest standards” and said that, of five investigations to reach court in recent years, “in only one case have the commission’s findings been overturned”.