Richard Cook defends DUP Brexit donation but refuses to reveal source

Richard Cook is interviewed at his home by Channel 4's Alex Thomson
John Monaghan

A FORMER vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservatives has defended a £435,000 Brexit donation by a pro-union group to the DUP.

The money was given to the party by the Constitutional Research Council (CRC)ahead of the EU referendum last year.

Little is known about the group, which is comprised of pro-union business figures, or exactly where the money originated.

A chunk of the huge donation was used to take out a four-page supplement in the Metro freesheet, which is available in London and other cities in Britain but not Northern Ireland, urging readers to vote Leave.

Challenged at his home about the payment by Channel 4 News, CRC chairman Richard Cook said the Electoral Commission is "fully aware of everything to do with the CRC".

Asked who contributed the money, he said: "I do not write the rules. I could disclose their identities but I won't do so to someone who has just turned up on my doorstep and is invading my family's privacy."

Channel 4 said it had attempted unsuccessfully over several days to secure an interview with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP Lagan Valley MP who dealt with the donation.

Mr Donaldson last week denied there was a 'side deal' between the DUP and Conservatives over political donations, after Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced that parties in the north would have to begin disclosing details of donors - but did not backdate publication to 2014 as permitted by legislation.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said: "There are many unanswered questions for the DUP about the handling of this donation and who was behind it."

Niall Bakewell, from Friends of the Earth, said that Mr Brokenshire "can and must" backdate the disclosure of donations.

A DUP spokesman said the party had been "open and transparent".

"The DUP is well aware of its responsibilities and has complied with the regulations as set out by the Electoral Commission. If we had failed to comply, we would be subject to further investigation."

He added: "In the interests of transparency we have provided information in the public domain which we were not legally obliged to provide. There is no additional information provided to the Electoral Commission that we have failed to publish."

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Having carefully considered the responses the Secretary of State does not believe it is right or fair to impose retrospective regulations on people who donated in accordance with the rules as set out in law at the time."

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