Belfast Telegraph

'No talks' between DUP and Electoral Commission on naming Brexit campaign donors

The Electoral Commission has insisted there have been no discussions with the Democratic Unionist Party over the publication of the party's pro-Brexit donors.

In an unusual step, the Electoral Commission issued a statement about the issue after DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the party had been in contact with the organisation in a bid to publish details of donors during the EU referendum campaign.

Sir Jeffrey later clarified his remarks saying that while there had been discussions with the Electoral Commission in relation to donations to the party, the discussions did not "specifically include the issue of publishing the names of donors".

As pressure continues to mount on the DUP to reveal details of who bankrolled their expensive UK-wide pro-Brexit campaign, it is understood that the Electoral Commission intends to imminently publish how much political parties spent on the EU referendum.

The Commission has said it could publish details on EU referendum campaign spending of over £250,000 by this Friday.

Information on EU referendum campaign spending of over £250,000 will include how much was spent and what on.

More than £250,000 is believed to have been spent by the DUP to promote their leave Europe message.

As part of that campaign, they paid for an expensive four-page 'Vote To Leave EU' advertisement in the British Metro newspaper. The paper is available in London and other cities but not in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has been facing calls to reveal how the cash was raised for the campaign.

Sir Jeffrey said the party "want to see what can be published to the greatest level of transparency as soon as possible".

"We are taking advice and are in discussions with others who are involved. People need to be consulted on this given that the law (in Northern Ireland) gives donors confidentiality.

"We are in discussions with a range of people, including the Electoral Commission. But it has to be noted that the matter on disclosure of donors rests with the DUP, not the Electoral Commission,"

Earlier, his party colleague Edwin Poots expressed hope that the information would be available as early as Thursday.

When asked if this timescale was likely, Sir Jeffrey said: "I am working on this to see what can be published to the greatest level of transparency."

In a statement, the Electoral Commission said: "The Electoral Commission has had no discussions with the DUP on the issue of publishing donor information.

"The Commission is legally bound to retain confidentiality about donations to political parties in Northern Ireland.

"Whether parties or donors choose to make this information available is a matter for them. In that event, the Commission remains bound by this legal requirement for confidentiality and would therefore be unable to comment."

DUP leader Arlene Foster has admitted that the party received donations after registering as a Leave campaigner.

However, when pushed for details about the donors during a recent UTV pre-election debate, she would only say: "From an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept and make sure we can have a United Kingdom."

Donations to political parties in Northern Ireland are kept confidential for fear of identifying donors. But other political parties have demanded that the DUP clarify who funded its "lavish" pro-Brexit advertising campaign.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said that Secretary of State James Brokenshire has the power to publish details of donations and urged him to do so.

A UK Government spokesman said the Secretary of State is "keen to make progress" on the issue.

The spokesman said: "The Secretary of State wrote to the Northern Ireland parties in January 2017 seeking their views on moving to full transparency.

"He remains keen to make progress on this issue and is currently considering responses received from the parties.

"An announcement on a way forward will not take place until after the election, in line with the usual pre-election protocols."

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