- 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.
- 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.
- There‘s an unexplained discrepancy of almost £100k between two independent public sources for political donations made by shoe repair and key-cutting business Timpson Ltd for the eight years 2009-2016. Further, there’s incomplete disclosure of recipient in one of the sources, the company annual reports and accounts. These all show the Conservatives as recipient, failing to identify explicitly Edward Timpson MP as recipient. The MP, who was a government minister until losing his seat in the 2017 general election, is a related party of the family business. Thus the political donations are related party transactions – undisclosed related party transactions.
- The firm’s last accounts were made up to 1 October 2016, Companies House records show (registered company number: 00675216). And at that year-end Timpson Ltd had made 13 political donations, all non-cash and total value £730.4k, according to the Electoral Commission online database. The recipient was the same each time: Edward Timpson MP.
- Conservative Mr Timpson lost his seat, Crewe and Nantwich, to Labour by just 48 votes at the last general election in June 2017, having first been elected in May 2008 in a by-election. His last role in government was as Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families at the Department for Education July 2016-June 2017.
- Beginning in 2009, Timpson Ltd made at least one donation to the MP each of the eight years, Electoral Commission records show.
- Political donations above £2k must be disclosed by a company in the directors’ report within the annual report. For each year 2009-2016, political donations were disclosed in the annual report. And the recipient was the same each time: the “Conservative Party”. But here the total value was £633.0k – almost £100k (i.e. £97.4k) less than the Electoral Commission total, £730.4k (Table 1). (The 2009 directors’ report states that the firm made no political donations in 2008.)
|Year||Annual report||Electoral Commission|
- There’s something else about the company annual reports and accounts: they all fail to identify explicitly Edward Timpson MP as recipient of the political donations. It’s merely the Conservatives. This incomplete disclosure is disappointing because Edward, as his last name suggests, is a member of the eponymous family who own and run the ubiquitous high-street retailer. He’s a son of director Sir John Timpson, who’s company chair; and brother of director James Timpson, who succeeded his father as chief executive in 2011. Both Sir John and James are high-profile business figures.
- But the incomplete disclosure doesn’t stop there. The company annual reports and accounts all fail to disclose the donations to the MP as related party transactions. Edward is a related party of Timpson Ltd because he‘s a close family member of Sir John and James (see International Accounting Standard 24 Related Party Disclosures (IAS 24): http://www.iasplus.com/en-gb/standards/ias/ias24). Thus the political donations are related party transactions – undisclosed related party transactions.
- Prior to this year’s general election, Timpson Ltd didn’t respond to requests for comment. I wrote twice to the family business in May 2017 via its website. On each occasion I received nothing but an immediate automated acknowledgement of receipt (email). The retailer became responsive after the general election, however. On 21 July 2017, I contacted it for the third time via the website. In her response for Timpson Ltd three days later (email), Christine Hickman enclosed “a reply that should have been sent to you.” It said: “Further to your enquiry our independent external auditors have confirmed that the disclosures we have made in our statutory accounts are in compliance with the Large and Medium-sized Companies and Groups (Accounts and Reports) Regulations 2008. We have made enquiries of the Electoral Commission and are awaiting a response.”
- I thanked Ms Hickman for the email by reply the same day (24 July 2017), adding I‘d await her further response. At date of publication I‘ve heard nothing.
- On 13 April 2017, Mark Spencer, Conservative MP for Sherwood and an Assistant Government Whip, declared a cash donation of £2.15k on the register of MPs’ financial interests. It came from SJ Ankh Ltd, a local company; but the registered company number that Mr Spencer stated fails to match that on the Companies House register. The mismatch between company name and number requires explanation. Further, while £2.15k may not be a huge amount, here I show that Mr Spencer’s declaration on the register means we’re talking telephone numbers.
- Farmer Mr Spencer, who was first elected MP for Sherwood in May 2010, listed 9654867 as company number. Yet the registered company number of SJ Ankh Ltd is 10525122, according to Companies House records. While 9654867 is the company number of Bedfordshire Land Promotions Ltd.
- There’s something else about number 9654867, though. It’s the phone number for Sherwood Conservative Association (without prefix 0115, area code for Nottingham).
- Samuel (“Sam”) Ancliff is sole director of SJ Ankh Ltd, which is a new company. He’s “deputy chairman (membership)” of Ashfield and Mansfield Conservatives, too, says his Twitter biography (screen shot in Figure 1). On 4 May 2017, Mr Ancliff stood unsuccessfully in the local elections, as Conservative candidate for county councillor in Kirkby North, Nottinghamshire County Council. He came second, behind Labour’s John Knight.
- Mr Spencer, who is Conservative candidate for Sherwood in the current general election, didn’t respond to requests for comment (emails). Neither did Sherwood Conservatives. Where’s the “strong and stable leadership”?
- Mr Ancliff, however, said in an email: “Besides that it is a [sic] clearly a simple admin error on someone’s part, I have nothing further to contribute to your blog.” Well, if so, who exactly made “a simple admin error,” and where?
- On 4 April 2016, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP declared a cash donation of £2k on the register of MPs’ financial interests. It came from BTP Advisers International Ltd (registered company number: 08522892). The Lib Dems in his constituency, Westmorland and Lonsdale, accepted the donation from the company on 31 March 2016, according to the Electoral Commission online database.
- BTP Advisers International Ltd was dissolved on 19 July 2016, after filing one set of accounts only – for a dormant company – made up to 31 May 2014, Companies House records show. It was incorporated on 9 May 2013 by its two directors, Sandra Lawman and Mark Pursey.
- Both have been politically active with the Lib Dems, and for a long time. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey said in an email that he was a party member, and had been “for the last 27 years.” He added: “I have no involvement in the party today beyond being a member and supporter. However, in the past, I have served as a local Lib Dem councillor, worked for the party, and volunteered to help on many of its campaigns.” Meanwhile, Ms Lawman’s profile on the website of Dudley Miles Company Services Limited (registered company number: 03208062), a company where she’s now a director, lists various roles as a Lib Dem activist (screen shot in Figure 1).
- Mr Pursey campaigned as a Lib Dem for the UK to leave the EU – he was a member of the Liberal Leave team, as its homepage at 20 June 2016 shows: https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20160620223359/liberalleave.org.
- Political donations above £2k must be disclosed by a company in the directors’ report within the annual report. This donation, of course, falls just under. Yet dormant BTP Advisers International Ltd didn’t even file its overdue second accounts, made up to 31 May 2015. It was then dissolved, of course, on 19 July 2016. How could a dormant company donate £2k to the Lib Dem leader?
- So I asked Ms Lawman and Mr Pursey in an email three questions about their company and the donation. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey told me in an email that the donation didn’t come from BTP Advisers International Ltd. Rather, it came from BTP Advisers Limited (registered company number: 07455523). That, he told me, “is an active company, and always has been.” Mr Pursey also asked where the donation was shown as from BTP Advisers International Ltd, despite the fact I’d explicitly referred to the register of MPs’ financial interests. I pointed again to Mr Farron’s entry there, providing the link; whereupon he replied in an email the same day: “Well then that’s wrong. I am [sic] no idea why that is what is down. I’ll ask them to change it.”
- Ms Lawman at Dudley Miles Company Services Limited didn’t respond to the original email.
- What does BTP Advisers Limited do? It’s a “multi-award winning communications agency working across international media relations, crisis management, political campaigns and legal disputes,” says the Twitter biography (@btpadvisers). Mr Pursey is founder and managing partner.
- Not everyone is a fan, however. In December 2011, for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Mr Pursey had boasted to an undercover reporter of BTP Advisers Limited’s PR work for the Rwandan government, including its creation of an internet “attack site” to counter accusations that the government had been involved in genocide: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2011-12-06/pr-firm-attacked-critics-of-rwandan-government. There the Bureau also reported his claim the company was working for the controversial government of Azerbaijan.
- In March 2013, meanwhile, The Sunday Times newspaper exposed BTP Advisers Limited’s role in the Kenyan presidential election, in particular orchestrating an alleged “dirty tricks” campaign against British diplomats, on behalf of eventual winner Uhuru Kenyatta: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lib-dem-defeats-our-man-in-kenya-830n0rs5vj5.
- On 21 April 2016, the Guido Fawkes website criticised Mr Farron for accepting the £2k donation from what it identifies as BTP Advisers because of the company’s PR work for “some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world”: https://order-order.com/2016/04/21/farron-bankrolled-by-disgraced-rwanda-spinners/. Guido Fawkes said nothing, though, about the actual company on the official record for the donation, BTP Advisers International Ltd.
- There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.
- On 7 March 2017, I emailed Mr Farron at parliament seeking an explanation for the discrepancy between his declaration on the register of MPs’ financial interests and what Mr Pursey had told me in emails the day before. Having heard nothing, I sent a reminder a week later. This time his office (no name disclosed) acknowledged receipt, on 17 March 2017, adding: “We are making enquiries and will come back to you in due course.” Again, nothing. So I sent a third email on 19 April 2017. At date of publication I haven’t had a response.
- Mr Farron’s declaration is unchanged on the latest register of MPs’ financial interests (that is, at 10 April 2017). Similarly, at date of publication BTP Advisers International Ltd remains as donor on the Electoral Commission online database.