Pro-unionist group gave DUP £425,622 for Brexit campaign

Constitutional Research Council donated £425,622 to DUP for Leave campaign

Jeffrey Donaldson  denied suggestions the DUP broke the spirit of electoral law with its Metro wraparound, circulated only in Britain. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Jeffrey Donaldson denied suggestions the DUP broke the spirit of electoral law with its Metro wraparound, circulated only in Britain. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The Constitutional Research Council (CRC) has been revealed as the pro-union group that donated £425,622 to the DUP’s Brexit campaign.

On Friday morning Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s defence spokesman told Radio Ulster the DUP spent just over £425,622 (€504,098) on its UK-wide Leave campaign, spending some in Britain and some in Northern Ireland.

He said the party was “delighted” it had been able to raise the money and that the Electoral Commission had allocated it the capacity to raise up to £700,000.

The CRC is headed by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist Party.

Sir Jeffrey described him as a “very credible, respectable person”.

Pressure has been building on the DUP to reveal who made the large donation to advertise its pro-Brexit position in Britain ahead of the EU membership referendum last year.

Questions have dogged the party since prior to polling day on June 23rd when Leave campaign literature in its name was published as a wraparound on Metro newspapers not sold in Northern Ireland.

Historically, because of a perceived security threat to donors, the electoral law in Northern Ireland says donors remain anonymous and are not made public and open to the same scrutiny as in Britain.

However, the Alliance Party and Green Party in the North publish information on their donors on their websites and the Northern Secretary James Brokenshire is in consultation with Stormont parties about changes to the current procedure.

The Electoral Commission is expected to publish all Brexit campaign spending amounts later on Friday.

‘Shadowy group’

Sir Jeffrey described the CRC as “a pro-union, unionist organisation based in Great Britain” which had been involved in politics in Britain.

“It approached the DUP to support our campaign during the referendum because it supports unionist causes in the United Kingdom, ” he said.

He also rejected suggestions the money had been channelled through Northern Ireland to take advantage of electoral law around anonymity.

“The Leave campaign had raised the maximum amount that they were permitted to spend so they couldn’t raise any more money.

“It was open to any political party to register for the referendum campaign. We registered before we raised this money so there was no question of somebody coming to us and saying ‘look, if you register we can channel money through you’, that simply didn’t happen.

“We registered because we wanted to be involved at a national level because we recognise the population of Northern Ireland is 3 per cent of the United Kingdom.

“This referendum was not going to be won or lost in Northern Ireland, it was going to be won or lost on a national basis and that is why the DUP being a unionist party decided to participate in the national campaign.”

Sir Jeffrey denied suggestions the DUP broke the spirit of electoral law with its Metro wraparound, circulated in Britain, saying it was a UK-wide referendum and the party had received “very positive” feedback to it.

“It would reach far more people and get our message to far more people than if we simply put it into a Northern Ireland paper,” he said.

“This way we reached millions of people.”

The Herald newspaper in Scotland described the CRC as a “shadowy group” and said its business leaders are “preparing to invest even more in opponents to Scottish independence should Nicola Sturgeon call a second referendum”.