- In November 2017, veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash MP registered on the register of MPs’ financial interests donations he received for a visit to Denmark 28-29 October 2017. Sir Bill went to collect an award from the People’s Movement against the EU, “for promoting democracy and international cooperation in Europe”. Brexit thinktank The Red Cell donated £500. But this only begs the question: who gave the money to The Red Cell that enabled it to pay for most of Sir Bill’s trip to the land of Lego?
- I first mentioned the thinktank in November last year, when writing about its director, Dr Lee Rotherham (see 22 November 2017 post). A self-styled veteran eurosceptic, Dr Rotherham tweets as “DrBrexit”. He works in parliament for Conservative MP John Hayes, who until January 2018 was Minister of State at the Department for Transport; and has done for several years. Dr Brexit is also executive director at Veterans for Britain, another thinktank. Veterans for Britain was linked to Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Indeed, Dr Rotherham was director of special projects at Vote Leave (see 22 November 2017 post).
- The funding of The Red Cell is opaque. At date of publication its website says nothing about funder(s), past or present. There‘s no indication of how to donate to support its work, either, which is unusual for a thinktank.
- But it’s not only the funding that‘s opaque. Its legal structure is unclear. Again, the website fails to state this. Further, none of the companies registered at Companies House with “Red Cell” in its name appears to be the thinktank, or connected to it. Nor is there a charity registered at the Charity Commission with “Red Cell” in its name. We therefore have no idea of how the The Red Cell will do its financial reporting, if any.
- Neither Dr Rotherham nor Sir Bill responded to emails asking two simple questions about the Brexit thinktank. First, what‘s the source of funding that enabled it to cough up for most of Sir Bill’s visit? Second, what’s its legal structure?
- Dr Rotherham in his own name also recently funded a visit to Iceland by David Jones MP, another Brexiteer (9-10 November 2017). Mr Jones went to deliver a lecture on UK withdrawal from the EU, at the University of Iceland. Again, the donation was £500, according to his entry on the register of MPs’ financial interests. The MP’s last ministerial role was as Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, July 2016-June 2017.
- Something else about Mr Jones: he’s a patron of The Red Cell, the website shows (screen shot in Figure 1). Cosy.
- Transparency around funding is clearly long overdue at the Brexit thinktank. But why exactly are both Dr Rotherham and Sir Bill seemingly unwilling to be open and responsive about The Red Cell and its funding?
- The House of Commons Code of Conduct requires MPs to register their financial interests, if any, on the appropriately named register of MPs’ financial interests. Register entries remain in the register of MPs’ financial interests for 12 months and members can update them during that time. Once a financial interest no longer appears in the register, however, the entry cannot be revised. This creates an unsatisfactory incentive, I believe, for MPs to ignore any errors someone might identify in their register entries: after 12 months the incorrect information will disappear and cannot then be corrected. Last year, Tim Farron MP, who was Lib Dem leader at the time, failed to correct a donation he had registered on the register of MPs’ financial interests, despite three emails from me during the relevant 12 months. When I complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, then Kathryn Hudson, she said in a letter she would not begin a formal inquiry because at date of complaint the inaccurate donation was no longer shown on the register! Ms Hudson directed me to the Electoral Commission, which finally got the Lib Dems to correct the donation. Astonishingly, however, the commission online database of political donations fails to show the donation was updated, let alone when. What’s worse, the amendment is not documented anywhere on the public record.
- On 4 April 2016, Mr Farron registered a £2k donation on the register of MPs’ financial interests – from BTP Advisers International Ltd (registered company number: 08522892) (screen shot in Figure 1). This was incorrect, as I exclusively established (see 27 April 2017 post). The donation actually came from linked firm BTP Advisers Limited (registered company number: 07455523).
- When I complained about this in a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in September 2017, I had sent a fourth request for comment (email) to Mr Farron, again unanswered.
- On Ms Hudson’s advice, I duly complained to the Electoral Commission. The regulator of political party finances told me in an email that, following correspondence with the Lib Dems, it had amended the relevant donation (screen shot in Figure 2). As you can see, there is no evidence there of the changes and when they were made. So much for transparency and accountability. Highly unsatisfactory.
- The watchdog updated the record on 16 November 2017, it added in another email, after I requested the date. It also confirmed my fear: the amendment is not documented anywhere on the public record.
- That’s the end of the matter, according to the Electoral Commission. It has no interest in holding Mr Farron to account for failing to register the donation accurately on the register of MPs’ financial interests. Nor is it concerned by his ignoring my four emails.
- MPs currently have a free pass to ignore errors in their entries on the register of MPs’ financial interests. We must close the loophole in the rules for the register that allowed the then Lib Dem leader to avoid accountability for both registering an incorrect donation and failing to rectify the error. Also, the Electoral Commission should surely routinely report any changes it makes to the political donation data it holds. Updated records in its online database must be clearly identified as such, not hidden.
- Holders of parliamentary passes as MPs’ staff are required to declare only paid roles on the register of MPs’ staff. Yet an influential Brexit campaigner working for a Conservative MP erroneously declared an apparently unpaid role at the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), the campaign group.
- The declaration failed to state the role is unpaid. It isn’t self-evident from the job title – research fellow – it’s unpaid, either.
- Dr Lee Rotherham declares two roles, both at thinktanks, on the latest register of MPs’ staff (at 2 November 2017). He’s executive director at Veterans for Britain and director at The Red Cell. His MP sponsor is John Hayes, Conservative, who’s Minister of State at the Department for Transport.
- Dr Rotherham was director of special projects at Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Previously he’d been an adviser to Business for Britain, the eurosceptic campaign group established in 2013 by Matthew Elliott, who later became Vote Leave chief executive.
- In early 2016, Business for Britain had to repay a £50k grant it‘d received from charity the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT), after intervention by regulator the Charity Commission (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/09/vote-leave-chief-matthew-elliott-repays-charitable-grant-anti-eu-dossier-charity-commission). PERT itself is linked to the TPA (see 15 February 2016 post): indeed the charity was founded in October 2006 as the TaxPayers’ Alliance Research Trust, before changing its name a year later. Mr Elliott was PERT‘s founding company secretary, resigning in February 2010.
- On 20 November 2017, the Electoral Commission announced it’s opened an investigation to establish whether Vote Leave Limited, Mr Darren Grimes and/or Veterans for Britain breached campaign finance rules in relation to spending at the 2016 EU referendum. The commission says it has “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed”. In May 2016, Vote Leave donated £100k to Veterans for Britain, according to the Electoral Commission online database.
- Because of the new investigation, it’s appropriate to scrutinise the links between Vote Leave and Veterans for Britain. Dr Rotherham, of course, was director of special projects at Vote Leave; and is currently executive director at Veterans for Britain.
- In the three years 2013-2015, Dr Rotherham, who tweets as “DrBrexit,” declared his research fellow post at the TPA. Here’s the register of MPs’ staff at 30 May 2013: register at 30 May 2013. The declaration continued into 2014, as the register at 26 June 2014 shows: register at 26 June 2014. And into 2015, too: see the register at 30 March 2015, for example: register at 30 March 2015. The declaration had vanished by 29 September that year, though: register at 29 September 2015.
- In February 2017, Dr Rotherham told me in an email his role as a research fellow at the TPA is an unpaid honorary one. (He still appears on the TPA website as a research fellow at date of publication (screen shot in Figure 1). As you can see, there continues to be no indication his is an unpaid role.) When I asked why in the first place he’d declared the post given it was apparently unpaid, the self-styled “veteran eurosceptic” wrote in March 2017: “Excessive diligence!”
- Nevertheless holders of parliamentary passes as MPs’ staff are required to declare only paid roles on the register of MPs’ staff. Thus anyone would reasonably infer Dr Rotherham had been paid by the TPA when he declared his research fellow role there. Dr Brexit says he wasn’t, which means his declaration was inaccurate.
- Neither Mr Hayes nor John O’Connell, TPA chief executive, responded to requests for comment in February 2017.
On 22 August 2017, I revealed that regulator the Charity Commission was going to instruct charity The Lee And Bakirgian Family Trust (registered charity number: 1046940) to re-submit its latest accounts “in the correct format”. This was after earlier that month I’d brought to the commission’s attention the problem with the latest accounts, made up to 30 September 2016: they didn’t contain an independent examiner’s report to the charity trustees. Here are the deficient accounts, downloaded from the commission on 27 July 2017: 0001046940_AC_20160930_E_C. Well, the north west charity has duly re-submitted them – but there’s no record on the commission’s public register of charities that the accounts had to be re-submitted. The re-submission is hidden. The fact of re-submission is hidden in the new version of the accounts, too. Both are unsatisfactory. The charity’s records should surely be complete and transparent.
Lord Lee of Trafford (Lib Dem) is a celebrated private investor, who, among many other things, has for a long time written a column in the FT newspaper about investing. How ironic: former MP Lord Lee pores over company accounts and tells FT readers how to interpret them. Yet the latest accounts for his own charity – he’s a trustee – were inadequate, according to the regulator.
On 18 September 2017, the commission told me in an email Lord Lee’s charity had now re-submitted the accounts. Nevertheless at date of publication there’s no indication of the re-submission on the commission’s public register of charities. There the revised accounts, which aren’t identified as such, are erroneously shown as received by the commission on 28 April 2017 – the date when the original accounts were filed there. In other words, the regulator hides the re-submission.
It’d be less of a concern if the revised accounts themselves documented the fact of re-submission and why it was necessary. But they don’t.
So the latest accounts now include an independent examiner’s report to the charity trustees – which, although undated by the examiner, obviously helps to maintain public trust and confidence in Lord Lee’s charity. But neither the commission’s public register of charities nor the accounts themselves record the fact of re-submission and why it was necessary. So much for transparency and accountability.
When I brought to the commission’s attention the new problems, a staff member said in an email: “We are in the process of reviewing and updating the ‘search for a charity’ and register page, I have forwarded your comments to the relevant team for them to incorporate into their feedback for future versions.” I won’t hold my breath.
- Former Tory MP Tim Yeo is a “senior consultant” at Turquoise, a London-based merchant bank specialising in “energy, environment and efficiency”.
- He was South Suffolk MP from 1983 to 2015. His parliamentary career included a stint as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, according to his biography on the Turquoise website (screen shot in Figure 1). That’s a government post.
- Yet the parliament website shows Mr Yeo was in fact, twice, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/mr-tim-yeo/136. And that’s an opposition post.
- Government and opposition are, er, obviously different.
- At date of publication Mr Yeo hasn’t responded to a request for comment via email, nor has Turquoise. His biography on the merchant bank’s website is unchanged.
- On 15 August 2017, UK 2020 Limited, the thinktank founded and chaired by former cabinet minister Owen Paterson, filed its second set of accounts at Companies House (registered company number: 09245454). Conservative MP Mr Paterson, who’s now sole director, signed off the accounts on 8 June 2017. Made up to 31 March 2017, note 4 there, “Future activities,” states: “The company was dormant from 1 April 2017.”
- Two weeks after filing the accounts, meanwhile, the apparently dormant thinktank published its latest report, “Timebomb: How the university cartel is failing students.” Its findings were first reported on 3 September 2017, in The Sunday Times newspaper and on the BBC News website. Two days later, UK 2020 formally launched the report in the House of Commons Thames Pavilion, according to the thinktank’s Twitter feed (@_uk2020).
- The 157-page report was produced “over recent months,” says lead author Richard Tice in his preface. Is UK 2020 the first dormant thinktank to prepare and publish a weighty report?
- At date of publication neither Mr Paterson at parliament nor UK 2020 itself responded to requests for comment.
- The company that owns English football club Hull City Tigers, Allamhouse Limited, is as well known for its record of political donations, mostly to Labour. The firm itself is owned by the Allam family. Dr Assem Allam is chairman of Hull City; his son Ehab Allam vice-chairman. There‘s an unexplained discrepancy of almost £32k between two independent public sources for political donations made by Allamhouse Limited for the five years 2012-2016. Further, the identified recipients of the donations differ between the two independent public sources. The football club apparently remains for sale, meanwhile, after relegation from the Premier League last season, 2016-17.
- The firm’s last accounts were made up to 31 December 2016, Companies House records show (registered company number: 07042898). And at that year-end Allamhouse Limited had made seven political donations, all cash and total value £750.0k, according to the Electoral Commission online database. Also, subsidiary Allam Marine Limited (registered company number: 02708090) made two political donations in 2012, both cash and total value £106.9k. Thus the overall sum at the Electoral Commission is £856.9k.
- Political donations above £2k must be disclosed by a company in the directors’ report within the annual report. Here the accounting reference date is 31 December, according to Companies House records. For each year 2012-2016 except 2015, political donations are disclosed in the annual report of Allamhouse Limited. But here the total value is £825.0k – almost £32k (i.e. £31.9k) less than the Electoral Commission total, £856.9k (Table 1). (No political donations are disclosed in the 2011 directors’ report of Allamhouse Limited. And none are listed during 2011 in the Electoral Commission online database, either)
|Year||Annual report||Electoral Commission|
- Six issues about the Hull City owners‘ political donations arise from comparison of disclosures in the directors’ reports and Electoral Commission records.
- FIRST ISSUE: The 2012 directors’ report of Allamhouse Limited discloses a cash donation to Labour of £100k. Electoral Commission records show that in 2012 the party actually received that sum from subsidiary Allam Marine Limited. Yet later that year, Allam Marine Limited also gave Labour £6.9k, according to the Electoral Commission online database. Why did the 2012 directors’ report of Allamhouse Limited fail to disclose the second cash donation to Labour? (No political donations are disclosed in the 2012 directors’ report of Allam Marine Limited.)
- SECOND ISSUE: The 2013 directors’ report shows two cash donations: £110k to Labour and £15k to the Conservative Middle Eastern Council (CMEC). Neither – nor any donation – is shown during 2013 in the Electoral Commission online database. Why?
- THIRD ISSUE: The 2014 directors’ report discloses cash donations to Labour of total value £500k. The number of cash donations isn’t specified. During 2014 in the Electoral Commission online database there’s only a single donation to Labour – of £110k. Perhaps this donation is that disclosed in the 2013 directors’ report? (see SECOND ISSUE) Similarly, in 2014 CMEC accepted a cash donation of £15k from the company, the Electoral Commission online database shows. Again, perhaps this donation is that disclosed in the 2013 directors’ report?
- FOURTH ISSUE: The 2015 directors’ report discloses no political donations. Nevertheless in 2015 Labour accepted two cash donations from the firm: £200k and £300k, according to the Electoral Commission online database. Perhaps these donations are those disclosed in the 2014 directors’ report, total value £500k? (see THIRD ISSUE)
- FIFTH ISSUE: The 2015 directors’ report discloses no political donations. Yet during 2015 in the Electoral Commission online database CMEC accepted a cash donation of £15k from the company. Why the non-disclosure in the directors’ report?
- SIXTH ISSUE: The 2015 directors’ report discloses no political donations. But during 2015 in the Electoral Commission online database the Conservatives (Haltemprice and Howden) accepted a cash donation of £10k from the company. Haltemprice and Howden is the constituency of David Davis MP, Brexit Secretary. It‘s also where Dr Allam lives. Why the non-disclosure in the directors’ report?
- For 2016, however, there’s no discrepancy in amount between the two independent public sources: both say £100k. This political donation is vaguely described as “to the Labour Party Leadership campaign” in the 2016 directors’ report. While Owen Smith MP, who challenged Jeremy Corbyn MP as Labour leader in the summer of 2016, is shown as recipient at the Electoral Commission.
- Hull City press officer, Luke Cash, hasn’t responded to requests for comment. I‘ve emailed him at the football club three times, beginning in June 2017.
- ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: I’m grateful to James Douglas at the Electoral Commission for advice on its data.