Dark Money Investigations

The High Court case which could reveal the DUP's secret Brexit donors

The Good Law Project is taking the Electoral Commission to court to find out who was behind a huge donation that paid for Leave campaigning.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
18 September 2018
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The DUP Brexit advert in the Metro

Someone gave the Democratic Union Party £435,000 before the Brexit referendum in 2016. But we don’t know who. Now a campaigning barrister is taking the Electoral Commission to court to force out the truth.

Last week in the High Court, senior barrister Jolyon Maugham won a case against the Electoral Commission and Vote Leave – one of the two official campaigns in the referendum. The court ruled that a donation from Vote Leave to Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes should have been counted as expenditure for Vote Leave and not Grimes’ independent campaign. This is because the money was paid directly to AggregateIQ, a political data marketing company that was supposed to be working for Grimes’ campaign. The extra expenditure means that Vote Leave broke the laws relating to how much the campaigns were allowed to spend.

Now Maugham’s non-profit organisation, the Good Law Project, is arguing that the same logic must also apply to the Constitutional Research Council, the body that gave the £435,000 donation to the Democratic Unionist Party, as revealed here on openDemocracy. More than half the money went on a DUP advert in the Metro newspaper, which ran in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland – and earlier this year, an investigation by BBC Northern Ireland revealed that Richard Cook, the chairman of the CRC, had personally placed that advert.

Maugham will argue that because the CRC placed the advert directly themselves, the DUP ‘donation’ ought, in fact, to be counted as expenditure by the CRC, in the same way that Vote Leave's gift to Grimes has now been counted as expenditure. And while the DUP has been allowed to hide behind Northern Irish donor secrecy laws, Richard Cook lives in Glasgow.

If the Good Law Project wins its case, the CRC will be legally required to publish all donations it has received of £7,500 or above. The Good Law Project is crowdfunding to bring this case, and has so far raised £17,000 out of the £30,000 needed.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Jolyon Maugham said:

“It seems pretty obvious to me that if you pass money to someone else and you dictate what they do with that money, you’re as good as incurring the expenditure yourself and that’s what the court has now held.

“There’s an awful lot of material that’s yet to emerge into the public domain but as I look at that material, it seems pretty obvious to me that both the CRC and the DUP have probably broken the law.”

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