The Red Cell: who funds the Brexit thinktank and what’s its legal structure?

  1. 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?
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. But it’s not only the funding thats 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.
  5. Neither Dr Rotherham nor Sir Bill responded to emails asking two simple questions about the Brexit thinktank. First, whats the source of funding that enabled it to cough up for most of Sir Bill’s visit? Second, what’s its legal structure?
  6. 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.
  7. Something else about Mr Jones: he’s a patron of The Red Cell, the website shows (screen shot in Figure 1). Cosy.

    Figure 1. David Jones MP is a patron of Brexit thinktank The Red Cell at 8 February 2018

  8. 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?
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How Tim Farron evaded responsibility for registering an incorrect donation on the register of MPs’ financial interests – Lib Dems finally correct donation only at Electoral Commission after my complaint but fact of correction hidden

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

    Figure 1. Tim Farron MP on the register of MPs’ financial interests at 18 April 2016: £2k donation from BTP Advisers International Ltd (registered company number: 08522892)

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    Figure 2. Electoral Commission at 16 January 2018: £2k donation from BTP Advisers Limited (registered company number: 07455523) to the Lib Dems in Tim Farron MP’s constituency, Westmorland and Lonsdale

  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Dr Brexit erroneously declared unpaid role at TaxPayers’ Alliance on the register of MPs’ staff

  1. 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.
  2. The declaration failed to state the role is unpaid. It isn’t self-evident from the job title – research fellow – it’s unpaid, either.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. In early 2016, Business for Britain had to repay a £50k grant itd 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!”
  10. 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.
  11. Neither Mr Hayes nor John O’Connell, TPA chief executive, responded to requests for comment in February 2017.

Figure 1. Dr Lee Rotherham: research fellow at the TaxPayers’ Alliance at 22 November 2017

Cover-up undermines credibility of GambleAware

  1. Here I describe a cover-up by GambleAware, the leading gambling charity, that undermines its credibility.
  2. GambleAware, formerly called the Responsible Gambling Trust (registered charity number: 1093910), is a national charity “committed to minimising gambling-related harm.” It does this by funding research, education and treatment services. Funded itself by donations from the gambling industry, the self-styled independent charity works closely with the industry – too closely for critics. I first wrote about GambleAware on 27 February 2017, identifying four main problems with the charity. Here’s another: it recently instituted a cover-up.
  3. On 28 March 2017, GambleAware published a news item on its website, entitled “Evaluation of MOSES” (screen shot in Figure 1). MOSES is the Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme for betting shops, a national scheme run by Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme Ltd (registered company number: 10269436). The company in turn is a wholly-owned but self-styled stand-alone subsidiary of the Senet Group (registered company number: 09310491).

    Figure 1. GambleAware news page at 30 March 2017

  4. Anyone wanting to control his or her high-street gambling can, with a single phone call to MOSES, register an initial wish to self-exclude from a self-selected group of betting shops, regardless of operator (self-exclusion.co.uk). A photo is required, which is shared with the relevant operators “to help staff recognise someone who has self-excluded and intervene if he or she breaches that undertaking.”
  5. The Senet Group is “an independent body set up to promote responsible gambling standards and ensure that the marketing of gambling is socially responsible,” says its website. Membership is open to “any gambling operator, and any associated organisation.” On 28 March 2017, the Senet Group, too, announced the MOSES evaluation on its website (screen shot in Figure 2). Its news item linked to the press release on the GambleAware website.

    Figure 2. Senet Group news page at 30 March 2017

  6. The GambleAware press release states that the charity had commissioned the evaluation of MOSES. The evaluation was carried out by company Chrysalis Research UK Limited (registered company number: 07375791). I didn’t understand why the original version of the Chrysalis Research report the charity published didn’t refer to GambleAware at all, astonishingly.
  7. On 29 March 2017, I therefore emailed the report’s author, Louise Duffy, seeking an explanation for the omission of GambleAware in her report. She’s a director of the research company. Having heard nothing, I sent a reminder a week later. This time Ms Duffy replied, on 6 April 2017, saying only: “Apologies for the delay. The published report does now have the acknowledgement in it and is attached here for your information.”
  8. The next day I pointed out in an email that she hadn’t explained, though, why the original version of the report didn’t refer to GambleAware at all. On 10 April 2017, Ms Duffy wrote: “It was an oversight on our part and we should have included that it was commissioned by GambleAware, hence the amendment made.”
  9. I wanted to be clear: did GambleAware really commission the evaluation, as stated in the accompanying press release? A related question is: what exactly is the relationship between the charity and the Senet Group anyway? I shall explain why the relationship is so important in a later post.
  10. The original version of the report was dated 23 March 2017 on the front cover. The file creation date in the file metadata as well is 23 March 2017 (screen shot in Figure 3). Here’s the original version, downloaded from the GambleAware website on 29 March 2017: jn175-moses-evaluation-final-report-230317.

    Figure 3. Original version of report: PDF document properties

  11. The revised version, though, remains dated 23 March 2017 on the front cover, which is misleading and dishonest, or could be perceived as such. The file creation date in the file metadata, meanwhile, is now later – 30 March 2017 (screen shot in Figure 4). Here’s the revised version, downloaded from the GambleAware website on 7 April 2017: jn175-moses-evaluation-report-final-report-230317.

    Figure 4. Revised version of report: PDF document properties

  12. At date of publication the report linked to on the charity website is the revised version I downloaded on 7 April 2017.
  13. There’s no record in the revised version that it’s actually been revised, which again is misleading and dishonest, or could be perceived as such. Similarly, it’s misleading and dishonest, or could be perceived as such, that the revised version fails to explain the reason for the changes.
  14. What’s worse, GambleAware simply swapped the files in the news item dated 28 March 2017 – again misleading and dishonest, or could be perceived as such. Thus the charity hid the change of files (screen shot in Figure 5).

    Figure 5. GambleAware news page at 7 April 2017

  15. I asked Iain Corby at GambleAware in an email why the charity had failed to document on its website the fact that it’d swapped the files – and when. Also, the reason for doing so. Accuracy and transparency, I added, are essential for public trust and confidence in GambleAware and its work. Mr Corby, now deputy chief exec, simply said in his response: the “researcher corrected a minor error.” He said nothing about the charity hiding the change of files. Mr Corby also told me he wasn’t prepared to answer any further queries from me. (I’d explicitly acknowledged him in my 27 February 2017 post for being responsive and willing to engage in discussion. I also phoned then to thank him verbally.)
  16. ADDENDUM: On the subject of self-exclusion, a GambleAware trustee has seemingly failed to declare a relevant interest on the online trustee register of interests. I refer to Clive Hawkswood (screen shot in Figure 6), who is sole director of company The National Online Self Exclusion Scheme Limited (NOSES; registered company number: 10504973), too, according to Companies House records. The company is creating and will operate NOSES, an equivalent self-exclusion scheme for online gambling.

    Figure 6. Trustee Clive Hawkswood’s declared interests at 30 March 2017

  17. On this point Mr Corby said in his email: “Clive Hawkswood’s interest with the RGA [Remote Gambling Association], which is developing NOSES, is already registered.” True, but Mr Hawkswood is sole director of The National Online Self Exclusion Scheme Limited: his role at the company should surely be declared for full disclosure.

Company donation to Mark Spencer MP requires explanation

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. There’s something else about number 9654867, though. It’s the phone number for Sherwood Conservative Association (without prefix 0115, area code for Nottingham).
  4. 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.

    Figure 1. Sam Ancliff on Twitter at 9 May 2017

  5. 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”?
  6. 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?

BuzzFeed re-examines Give Us Time after my investigation

  1. On 29 April 2017, James Ball at BuzzFeed re-examined Give Us Time, a military charity founded in 2012 by Dr Liam Fox MP. This was after my recent investigation (see 20 April 2017 post).
  2. Special Correspondent Ball named and credited me. His report: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jamesball/liam-foxs-military-charity-has-still-helped-just-a-fraction.

Why won’t Tim Farron explain the donation he declared from a dormant company just prior to dissolution without filing overdue accounts?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

    Figure 1. Sandra Lawman profile on Dudley Miles Company Services Limited website at 27 April 2017

  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.”
  7. Ms Lawman at Dudley Miles Company Services Limited didn’t respond to the original email.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.