“If this wasn’t such a serious matter, the thought of a retrospective law being changed retrospectively would be quite amusing. But it isn’t, because it is about so-called “dark money” that was funnelled to the Tories’ new playmates the DUP.
Last year, that party paid for a £282,000 advert promoting the Leave campaign in The Metro newspaper, a free publication that doesn’t even reach the DUP’s constituents – using cash from a £435,000 donation from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). This group is chaired by Richard Cook, a former Scottish Conservative Party vice-chairman and businessman. This is all public knowledge.
But the original source of the cash is a mystery – and will continue to be, despite the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014.
The Act received Royal Assent on March 13, 2014 and became law on May 5, 2016. Part of its scope was to end a rule allowing donors contributing £7,500 or more to parties in Northern Ireland to remain secret – as the purpose of that rule was to protect those funding political parties from becoming potential targets for terrorists during the Troubles.
As enacted by Parliament, the date from which party donors should expect their names to be released was January 1, 2014 – prior to the date in which it was passed, meaning that it was intended as a retrospective Act.
But Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire announced earlier this month that he was making a (retrospective) change and the amendment would only apply from 1 July 2017. So the period of the exemption has been shifted forward by three and a half years and now covers two general elections, two Northern Irish Assembly elections – and the EU referendum campaign for which the DUP received all of that Scottish money to spend on English newspaper adverts.
Mr Brokenshire said he “did not believe it right to impose retrospective regulations on people who donated in accordance with the rules as set out in law at the time”.
In the case of the DUP donation, this is nonsense as the law at the time made it perfectly clear that the identity of any donors would have to be published.
And Mr Brokenshire did this while claiming to be a champion of “full transparency”!
Now, This Writer is not one to go bandying unfounded accusations around, but I think we can all accept the following:
The decision to hide the original of the DUP’s donated cash casts suspicion on the Conservatives, the DUP and on Mr Brokenshire himself – and the stain won’t wash out until satisfactor answers are provided.