Electoral commission drops DUP Brexit funding inquiry

UK government urged to bring forward legislation allowing donations since 2014 to be made public

The UK Electoral Commission looked into claims that the DUP, led by Arlene Foster, failed to declare joint spending with other EU referendum campaigners. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The UK Electoral Commission looked into claims that the DUP, led by Arlene Foster, failed to declare joint spending with other EU referendum campaigners. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

An inquiry into allegations surrounding the DUP’s receipt of political donations in the run-up to the UK Brexit referendum is unable to proceed, the UK Electoral Commission has said.

The commission looked into allegations made by the BBC Northern Ireland programme Spotlight — Brexit, Dark Money And The DUP, which aired on June 26th last. It made allegations about whether the DUP, currently propping up the minority Conservative government, failed to declare joint spending with other EU referendum campaigners.

After requesting further evidence from BBC Northern Ireland, and being told that there was no “significant information” other than what was in the programme, the commission considered whether other evidence sources were available.

The commission concluded it “does not have grounds to open an investigation”.

In doing so, it noted it “continues to be prohibited by legislation from disclosing any information concerning donations to Northern Ireland recipients made prior to 1 July 2017... We continue to urge the UK government to bring forward legislation that will enable us to publish information on donations from January 2014”.

The commission records donations to Northern Irish parties but for many years these were not made public because of security concerns dating back to the Troubles. The ban was due to last only until October 2010, but that date was repeatedly extended and the prohibition was only lifted last March - covering the period from July 1st onwards in a move that was criticised by transparency campaigners.

Spending claims rejected

Separately, the electoral commission rejected claims from a former Conservative minister that Remain campaigners breached spending rules .

Former international development secretary Priti Patel complained that three videos from lead Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) should have been declared as “joint spending”.

Ms Patel, who resigned in disgrace after secret meetings with the Israeli government, also made allegations about late registration of campaigners associated with BSIE.

The commission concluded there was no evidence there was joint working on the videos or grounds to suspect a breach of joint spending rules.

It said the company under investigation, DDB, also known as Adam and Eve, was a registered campaigner and reported spending correctly.

“In this matter, there is not sufficient grounds to suspect that BSIE breached the joint spending rules,” they said.

“It was alleged that five campaigners were set up by BSIE and acted under a common plan. The commission has not been provided with or found evidence for an investigation to be opened.”

A new investigation has been opened into another registered campaigner, Wake Up and Vote, over claims from Ms Patel that they incurred undeclared joint spending with DDB.

A previous commission investigation concluded extracts from two books published since the referendum, describing daily telephone meetings of certain Remain campaigners chaired by BSIE, did not meet the threshold for an investigation.

It said: “Evidence indicates the meetings were advisory and did not involve or result in decisions on referendum spending.” (Additional reporting PA)