Imagine if this was Corbyn paying off the Lib Dems with £1 billion and then agreeing to keep all Lib Dem referendum donations secret – what would the Conservative Party be saying and doing?
“Ministers will whip Conservative MPs to block a move to reveal donations to the DUP during the EU referendum, which Labour has said is “doing the party’s dirty work”.
The government is set to help the Northern Irish party conceal details of past political donations, including a highly controversial sum given during the referendum, despite a 2014 law that extended party transparency rules to Northern Ireland.
The rules on transparency were to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, which first introduced in legislation in 2014 with the wide understanding it would be applied from that year.
However, the government has since said the transparency rules will apply from 1 July 2017, which would mean donations during the EU referendum in 2016 will not be made public.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Smith, said it was outrageous that the government would not backdate the donations rules.
“All parties in Northern Ireland apart from the DUP support the government’s previous promise to publish. There is simply no excuse to not publish the donations,” he said.
“The Tories must explain why they are doing the DUP’s dirty work by helping them avoid publishing the source of the funds received in the EU referendum. Those funds played a significant part in the referendum campaign across the UK and the public have a right to know precisely where that money came from.”
Serious questions remain over the DUP’s spending on the EU referendum in June 2016 – including a £435,000 donation from a group called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), chaired by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist party.
The DUP spent more than £280,000 of that money on a wraparound advertisement in the London-based Metro newspaper, which is not distributed in Northern Ireland.
On Monday night, the government attempted to enact the transparency rules in the legislation via statutory instrument, a process which allows the provisions of an act of parliament to come into force or be altered without parliament having to debate them.
However, after objections by Labour at the last-minute nature of the SI, the measure will now be put to a vote on Wednesday, where the party will attempt to get the law backdated to its introduction in 2014. Conservative MPs are under a three-line whip to oppose.
A Labour source said: “The government tried to pull a fast one and got their minister to sit down early so they could vote on the SIs last night rather than deferred on Wednesday. We stopped it but it’s very unusual and shows the nervousness on this, especially the NI political donations.”