Belfast Telegraph

Ministers face pressure to reveal details of £435k pro-Brexit DUP donation

By Richard Wheeler

Ministers have faced fresh pressure to reveal the full details of a controversial pro-Brexit donation to the DUP, amid claims of "political corruption".

Labour's Ben Bradshaw criticised the Government's "disgraceful" decision to "keep secret" information linked to the £435,000 donation.

This week, MPs backed legislation to lift the veil of anonymity on political donations in Northern Ireland, which applies to donations and loans received on or after July 1 2017. The donations are to be published on Monday.

But the Commons heard the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, still wants the Government to put forward further regulations to provide "full transparency" back to 2014 - which would include the DUP Brexit donation from the 2016 EU vote.

The money was given to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), a Great Britain-based group of pro-union business figures, ahead of the EU referendum. It helped pay for a four-page pro-Brexit advert in the Metro freesheet newspaper in London and other English cities.

It is believed the CRC was hit with a record fine by the Electoral Commission last year for failing to properly disclose information about the source of the donation to the DUP, which donors of this scale are required to do by law.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Bradshaw said: "Following the disgraceful decision by the Government yesterday to keep secret the source of the donation to the Leave campaign via the DUP, meaning the public had no idea where this money came from, what more can the Electoral Commission do to ensure we have full transparency in our electoral and democratic system?"

Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, could be heard saying: "It's corruption, political corruption." Bridget Phillipson, the Labour MP who answers questions on behalf of the Electoral Commission, said the watchdog "wants to see transparency of donations going back to 2014, as Parliament envisaged, and would support the Government laying a further order to provide for full transparency back to 2014".

Theresa May's minority Government relies on DUP support to push through key legislation. All 10 DUP MPs joined with the Tories to approve the order, with Labour and the SNP among those who opposed it.

A DUP spokesman said: "We welcome the increased transparency but we are disappointed that the backdoor on foreign donations which clearly benefits Sinn Fein and the SDLP has not been closed.

"Given we have already taken the voluntarily step of publishing the detail of the Brexit donor, no question arises about donor anonymity in this instance."

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