Brian Feeney: We need to know if DUP was paid to back Brexit
In the list of grievances and accusations Sinn Féin has levelled at the DUP like the Red Sky contracts affair, Nama, the Maze project and of course RHI, curiously the DUP’s Brexit campaign is not included.
In case you’ve forgotten, business, commerce and agriculture in the north were pretty unanimously opposed to leaving the EU. Arlene Foster and the DUP knew this fact perfectly well but nevertheless persisted in supporting a Leave vote for what they believed to be political advantage. In that campaign and in the months that followed until the present Foster and her party have consistently failed to represent the opinions and interests of the people of the north.
There are serious questions about this wrong-headed and irresponsible campaign that Sinn Féin have not been asking. The most important is this. Were the DUP paid to back Brexit and if so, how much?
Arron Banks, the multi-millionaire who gave £1 million to UKIP and led the Leave.eu campaign funding it with $5 million, claimed the DUP asked him for £30,000 a week as their price for joining his Leave.eu campaign. The allegation surfaced in November in his book The Bad Boys of Brexit. The DUP denies this claim. Banks went on to claim the DUP got £50,000 a month from the rival Leave campaign, which the DUP also denies.
However, did they receive any money from a British pro-leave campaign and if so, how much? Who paid for the obviously expensive four-page wrap round the Metro free news sheet handed out in Greater London on June 21 just before the referendum vote? It easily cost a five figure sum and more likely north of that. That advertising wrap ran the usual nonsense Boris Johnson and his gang peddled including the laughable but damaging tale that Albania was imminently to join the EU along with Turkey thereby sending millions of migrants to the UK.
Who was responsible for the publication of this costly tissue of untruths? None other than the DUP.
Writing about this propaganda in the Irish Times Fintan O’Toole estimated that the supplement was probably ‘the most expensive single piece of propaganda ever issued by an Irish political party’. Why would the DUP do it? There are no votes for them in London or anywhere else in Britain for that matter. They’re an exclusively Northern Ireland party. One MLA ridiculously claimed it was to establish the DUP, wait for it, as a key player in the UK Brexit campaign. Yeah right.
More importantly, how much did it cost? Who paid for it? The DUP? How could party’s notoriously tight officers possibly justify shelling out that amount of money to pay for an advert aimed at people who’d never heard of the party and couldn’t vote for it? If the party didn’t pay for it out of its own funds the cost would be classed as a political donation. In that case there’s no way of knowing because political donations here are secret.
The most likely explanation is that someone in the seedy disinformation unit of the Brexit campaign realised that they could use the secrecy surrounding the north’s political funding as a way to conceal a very large sum of money spent on their own campaign in London, a city very hostile to the notion of Leave and strongly resistant to the false clams of the Brexiteers. The DUP was happy to oblige.
Now, do you believe the DUP said, ‘Sure, go ahead, use our name. It’ll put us on the map in Britain.’? That they agreed to the project, including using the party’s name for nothing?
The party is due to submit its electoral expenses to the Electoral Commission which told Britain’s Independent newspaper it expects the expenses to be of the order of £250,000.
Perhaps the north’s farmers who stand to lose over 80 per cent of their income after subsidies end in 2020 will think it was money curiously misspent? Now that it’s known Britain is to leave the single market and customs union we can all anticipate the hard borders of the future with 30 per cent export tariffs for lamb and 50 per cent for beef as opposed to the evasive rubbish we’re fed about no ‘borders of the past’.