Tory donor’s ‘unacceptable’ views fail to stop party taking his cash
Party distanced itself from donor’s comments on Muslims and immigration, but days later accepted more money
The Conservative Party, a cabinet minister and a senior MP have continued to take thousands of pounds in donations from a businessman who expressed “unacceptable” views on Muslims and claimed that democracy faced “implosion” due to immigration.
In the last seven years, Maurizio Bragagni, an Italian-born industrialist living in the UK, has donated nearly £700,000 to the Tory Party and individual Conservative politicians either directly or through his company, Tratos.
The party distanced itself from the views on Muslims and immigration that were expressed in an article he wrote for an Italian publication in May. But it has continued to accept his money.
On the news site Saturno Notizie, Bragagni lamented the Conservatives’ losses at the local elections and suggested it was because “Muslims vote for Labour”.
Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19
The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.
He said that Sharia Law was the “de facto law” in parts of some English cities and accused the Labour Party of having an “anti Judeo-Christian identity” that “allows Islamic groups to feel at home”.
He claimed an “affinity between Islam and Labour has always existed”, implying this was a factor keeping London’s mayor Sadiq Khan in power, and described London as a “reduced city” that was now “worse than any African metropolis”.
In the article, Bragagni blamed Brexit for causing an imbalance in immigration, with a greater proportion of non-European migrants now coming to the UK.
He concluded the article: “Our democracies are at risk of implosion through the loss of identity due to immigration.”
When the BBC reported the comments on 10 June, a spokesperson for the Conservative Party said the party “in no way whatsoever condones these unacceptable comments”. Yet documents show that just three days later the party took another £10,000 donation from Bragagni.
That was followed three months later by justice secretary Brandon Lewis accepting a £5,000 donation from Bragagni, while Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell accepted a £1,044 “private holiday” to Italy.
The register of members' interests indicates the holiday took place between 11 and 17 of September – during the period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth.
Rosindell told openDemocracy that the “private holiday was a personal gift from a close friend and not connected to politics in any way”.
He said he was already overseas when the “sad news of Her Majesty’s passing came through” and he flew home early to attend the funeral procession and pay his respects.
The Conservative Party and Brandon Lewis did not respond to requests for comment.
Bragagni did reply, denying he had expressed racist views, and repeated an earlier claim that controversy had only arisen because of a translation issue.
“I have never knowingly offended anyone. I apologise that my article, originally written in Italian, caused unnecessary controversy when translated,” he said.
He said “racism is simply incompatible with my character and outlook” and that his charitable work had benefited many Muslim families.
“My friends encompass all the spectrums of world religions,” he said. “I am leading a company with social solid corporate responsibility, providing jobs and hopes for a better life to hundreds of people in a very depressed area, and I am supporting charities that help children, young girls and women to lift themselves out of poverty by providing access to better education. For example, about 2,000 children our initiatives have helped during these years, and around 55% belong to Muslim families.”
The article he authored in May was subsequently removed from the Italian news site, but is available on a web archive page. Neither Bragagni nor the news site responded to questions about why it had been taken down.
Brandon Lewis accepted £5,000 from Bragagni, while Andrew Rosindell accepted a £1,044 ‘private holiday’ to Italy
Over the past seven years, Bragagni has personally given more than £290,000 to the Conservative party or individual MPs.
His company, Tratos (UK) – a cable manufacturer with facilities in Merseyside – has donated more, with nearly £400,000 handed over. The firm says it only makes political donations as part of its “safer structures campaign” to promote more stringent standards in cabling, and has taken stands at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences since 2017 – but all of its donations in the same period listed in Electoral Commission returns have been to the Conservative Party.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been the biggest individual recipient in the past, taking a total £30,000 in three donations of £10,000 during 2019 and 2020: two from Bragagni and one from Tratos (UK).
Bragagni is also the UK consul of San Marino, the independent micro-state within Italy, and has been instrumental in facilitating trips for UK politicians to the area. Electoral Commission records show the tiny republic, with a population of just over 33,000, has spent nearly £30,000 on such visits in recent years.
In October last year, Jeremy Hunt travelled to San Marino with his family to receive an honour from the government there, at a reported cost to San Marino of £7,869.
Former prime minister Theresa May also travelled to San Marino that month to receive an honour, at a cost of £7,611. She had previously taken £5,000 from Bragagni’s Tratos (UK) during the Tory leadership campaign in 2016.
Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on San Marino also visited in October last year: five Tories (Andrew Rosindell, Graham Brady, Alun Cairns, Daniel Kawczynski and Sheryll Murray) and one MP from the SNP, Lisa Cameron.
During the visit, the MPs were also hosted in Italy by Bragagni at the international Tratos headquarters in Tuscany.
Liam Fox is another Conservative MP who has received direct donations from Bragagni – £3,000 in 2020 and £5,000 in March this year.
Not only does Bragagni remain a prolific donor to the Conservatives, the Department for International Trade also lists him as a member of the Trade Advisory Group on British manufactured and consumer goods.
A spokesperson for the department said: “TAG members do not set government policy, they volunteer their time unpaid to participate in our advisory committees. We do not condone these comments.”
Update, 1 November 2022: This article was amended to provide more information about Tratos (UK)’s political activities.
Why should you care about freedom of information?
From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?
Join our experts for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time on 15 June.
Claire Miller Data journalism and FOI expert
Martin Rosenbaum Author of ‘Freedom of Information: A Practical Guidebook’; former BBC political journalist
Jenna Corderoy Investigative reporter at openDemocracy and visiting lecturer at City University, London
Chair: Ramzy Alwakeel Head of news at openDemocracy
We’ve got a newsletter for everyone
Get our weekly email
CommentsWe encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.