Northern Ireland

New book says DUP 'dark money' scandal continues to cast shadow over British politics

Peter Geoghegan's Democracy For Sale includes an entire chapter on the DUP's 'dark money'
Peter Geoghegan's Democracy For Sale includes an entire chapter on the DUP's 'dark money' Peter Geoghegan's Democracy For Sale includes an entire chapter on the DUP's 'dark money'

ALMOST £500,000 donated to the DUP in the run-up to 2016's Brexit vote is "probably the most egregious example of dark money in modern British political history", according to the author of a new book looking at the growing influence of money on politics.

Glasgow-based Irish journalist Peter Geoghegan's Democracy For Sale takes a journey from Westminster to Washington, and far beyond, to see how money, vested interests and digital skulduggery are eroding trust in political institutions.

Based on three years of investigations and featuring original interviews with everyone from former Trump advisor Steve Bannon to senior figures from across the British political spectrum, the book looks at how unaccountable money, lobbying and data has reshaped politics.

An entire chapter in the openDemocracy investigations editor's book is dedicated to the DUP and the huge sum gifted to the party by the shadowy Constitutional Research Council (CRC) ahead of the EU referendum.

The true source of the cash, which paid for a series of pro-Brexit ads that ran only in Britain, remains a closely guarded secret.

"The £435,000 funnelled through the DUP during the Brexit campaign is probably the most egregious example of dark money in modern British political history," the author told The Irish News.

"More than four years on we still don't know who spent a fortune on the DUP's Brexit campaign – and because of the loopholes in Northern Irish electoral law we probably never will."

The book hears from former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, who argues that "with the passage of time this scandal only grows in importance".

"The most important vote in the UK’s history was the subject of a concerted effort to disguise huge payments made to the DUP to get the UK out of the EU," the one-time secretary of state for Scotland said.

"Any fair minded person would conclude that this money originally came from either someone who has no understanding of UK politics or from someone outside the UK."

The book looks at different examples of lobbying in recent years, including the Alternatives Arrangements Commission, a body composed of Conservative MPs and industry figures that said it was investigating technical solutions to Irish border. It was privately funded by Brexit donor Paul Marshall and headed by a corporate lobbyist.

The group gained influence at the highest levels of the British government and was publicly endorsed by Boris Johnson.

Its report on the border was widely cited as offering a compromise between the demands of the EU for an open border and British concerns about the freedom to strike post-Brexit trade deals.

"But the so-called commission never published the responses to its consultation from Northern Irish groups – I saw more than half a dozen and all raised issues with the proposals," says Geoghegan.

"Many Northern Irish business people said that the commission was less about solving the Irish border and more about making sure that the border didn't prevent a UK-US free trade deal."

:: Democracy for Sale by Peter Geoghegan is published this week by Head of Zeus.