Northern Ireland news

No-deal Brexit pressure group paid DUP's Lee Reynolds for consultancy work

DUP head of policy Lee Reynolds, and right, a Brexit Express campaign poster in London
Brendan Hughes

THE DUP's director of policy carried out paid consultancy work for a pressure group campaigning for a no-deal Brexit.

Belfast councillor Lee Reynolds received almost £1,000 for just over a week of work between November and January on behalf of Brexit Express.

The group, founded by multi-millionaire financier Jeremy Hosking, is actively pushing for the UK to leave the European Union without a deal.

It launched a Brexit-backing billboard advertising campaign in February with slogans saying "no deal is ideal" and it is "the only way to end the humiliation".

Brexit Express, which offered funding to Leave-supporting Tories in 2017's election, is now seeking to register as a new political party in Britain.

SDLP south Belfast councillor Dónal Lyons described the consultancy work by Mr Reynolds as "unbelievable".

But Mr Reynolds defended the work, saying he assisted Brexit Express in applying to register as a political party and did not advise on policy.

"I don't agree with Brexit Express on a no-deal Brexit," he told The Irish News.

The DUP has said it wants to leave the EU with a deal that "works for all parts of the UK", but has argued against ruling out a no-deal option during negotiations.

Last month DUP MP Jim Shannon voted in the House of Commons against a no-deal Brexit, while the party's nine other MPs abstained.

Mr Lyons warned that without a solution, a no-deal Brexit risks becoming "legally unavoidable".

"Rather than taking a step back and allowing calm heads to prevail, groups like Brexit Express are ratcheting up the pressure," he said.

"A no-deal scenario would have a negative impact on every person, every community and every sector in Northern Ireland.

"Theresa May is playing a very high-stake game of chicken against hard-line MPs and it is simply beyond reckless that Lee Reynolds is helping to push down on the 'no deal' accelerator."

Mr Reynolds, group leader of the DUP on Belfast City Council, declared his work with Brexit Express on his council register of interests.

The councillor said he received a daily rate of £130 for the work, amounting to a total wage of £975.

He said he was involved in the "paperwork and policy" for "registering Brexit Express as a political party in Great Britain".

"I had to draft a series of policies for them, good practice policies, and that was it essentially," he said.

Mr Reynolds dismissed concerns over working for a no-deal Brexit campaign group.

"I wasn't being employed for policy advice or analysis on that basis. I was simply being brought in on an administrative matter," he said.

The councillor said the DUP's policy on Brexit "remains the same", adding: "Our preference is for a deal. We want an agreement."

Multi-millionaire Mr Hosking gave around £1.7m to the official Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum. Mr Reynolds led the Vote Leave campaign in Northern Ireland.

The DUP did not respond yesterday to requests for a comment.

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