Call for clarity over Brexit donations

MP Martin Doherty-Hughes and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire MP

SCOTTISH MP Martin Doherty-Hughes has thrown his weight behind calls for clarity following hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations to the Brexit campaign being made through the DUP.

The scandal came to light following an advert in the Metro newspaper which was funded by the Constitutional Research Council, via the DUP. All the money spent on the advertising campaign—which amounted to £435,000—was used for publicity in favour of a Leave vote outside of the North of Ireland, raising question about the way in which the DUP gathered and used the funds.

Now Mr Doherty-Hughes—the SNP representative for West Dunbartonshire (above left)—has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire MP (above right) asking him to reveal the names of the donors behind the DUP publicity campaign.

The letter was revealed by journalists Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay for openDemocracy, and in it Mr Doherty-Hughes outlined the current legislation which would allow the Secretary of State to reveal who made the donation.

As it stands, parties at Stormont do not have to declare who made donations—a hangover from Ireland’s recent troubled history, which was designed to protect party donors from political violence—and while Mr Brokenshire has already announced an end to the practice from this month onward, no provision has been included to ensure that the previous donors can be identified.

Despite this, Mr Doherty-Hughes has identified powers which would allow Mr Brokenshire to make the information public—something which he argues it is in the public interest to do.

“It is not clear why any new legislation is required at all,” the SNP MP said in his letter. “Under the terms of Sections 15 A and 15 B of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 as Secretary of State you already have the power to introduce donor transparency into Northern Ireland, and can do so presently, without the need for any new legislation.

“There are serious concerns, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere that the UK Government’s recent political deal with the DUP contributed to your decision to refuse the public access to information on source of the DUP’s record Brexit funding… In light of these facts I would call on you as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to enforce the laws that already exist, and to ensure that the public know who funded the DUP’s Brexit campaign. Good governance demands it.”

Through his efforts to change the present situation, Mr Brokenshire wrote to the relevant parties in January of this year seeking their support, and said that he had ‘received a positive response from the parties’ on the issue.

However, with donations from after December 31, 2013 and before July 1 of this year following into a grey area of still being on record, but remaining unavailable to the public, both campaigners and ordinary voters continue to call for Mr Brokenshire to use his powers to name such donors.

Among those calling for an extension of powers is the Northern Irish Electoral Commission, with whom such donations are recorded.

“Legislation was made in 2014 to enable to future publication of any donations from 1 January 2014 onwards, the Secretary of State has chosen to only publish donations from 1 July 2017,” Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said recently to the BBC.

“That means the public, on the current plans, will not see donations over the last three-and-a-half-years. We would welcome full transparency and we would welcome full transparency back from 2014.”

With suggestions such as those by Martin Doherty-Hughes that the closeness of the Conservative Party and the DUP has played a part in the guarding the source of the donations for the Brexit campaign, the UK Government will have to work hard to reassure the public—and it may only be by naming the hidden donors that the electorate can have its confidence in the system restored.