A little-known organisation that quietly bankrolled a pro-Brexit campaign is now poised to target Scottish nationalists intent on a second independence referendum.
The Constitutional Research Council (CRC) funded the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Brexit drive to the tune of £425,000.
The money was used to fund pro-Brexit advertising across Britain, including an expensive ‘wraparound’ in The Metro – a newspaper which isn’t even available in Northern Ireland.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson defended the funding, explaining that the CRC was:
a group which supports constitutional pro-Union causes… They believed, as did we, that Brexit would be good for the Union and bad for those who oppose it.
Pro-Brexit group also funded
The CRC has also funded Conservative MP Steve Baker in his capacity as head of the European Research Group. Baker stated:
As Chair of the European Research Group (ERG), I accepted £6,500 from the Constitutional Research Council to fund hospitality for ERG members and their staff at an event on 19 December 2016.
The ERG’s Deputy Chair is pro-Brexit Tory MP Michael Tomlinson. And associated with the ERG are 60 ‘hard Brexit’ MPs. These include DUP MPs, UKIP, and a smattering of Labour MPs. The Tory side of the group includes Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, John Whittingdale, and Theresa Villiers.
The chairman of the CRC is Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
In a statement, Cook admitted that the CRC was ultimately about opposing nationalist aspirations:
The CRC exists to support constitutional pro-Union causes. We were delighted that one such cause we’ve been able to support was the DUP’s Leave campaign.
And now he has admitted that, should a second independence referendum be called in Scotland, the group will use its resources to fund the anti-independence campaign. Herald Scotland reports:
It has now emerged the CRC, which was established amid disquiet about the way Better Together ran the pro-union campaign in the 2014 referendum, will bankroll credible unionist groups in any forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.
A source close to CRC called for a ‘better class of politics’ than in the last independence referendum and said there could be ‘even more’ to spend than it did on the Brexit campaign.
The CRC said that research commissioned for the group showed that the often negative campaigning of the Better Together campaign ‘damaged the Union’.
Saudi Arabia links
Cook also has links to the former head of the Saudi intelligence agency. According to openDemocracy, Cook founded a company called Five Star Investment Management Ltd with the former head of the Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz. And on the weekend following the European referendum, sterling collapsed. The Chief Economist of Saudi Arabia’s largest bank argued the result of the vote was good news for Saudi Arabia.
As for the DUP funding scandal, Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland commented:
We thought dark money was trickling through our political system, but now we know it is flowing like a torrent. There are implications for the entire UK when even a small devolved country tolerates secret donations to political parties. This funding could be the tip of the iceberg.
Also, as previously reported in The Canary, the Electoral Commission has begun investigations into the wider funding arrangements of the EU referendum. And they could open a whole new can of worms in the process.
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