“The Scottish Tory vice chair Richard Cook, who helped channel £435,000 to the Democratic Unionist Party was branded a “fraudster” and “cowboy” who deliberately masked “cancerous dark money” pumped into British politics ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In a Westminster Hall debate, the SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes called for an urgent review of current laws which allowed Cook, the chair of the Glasgow-based Constitutional Research Council (CRC) to exploit a legal loophole and avoid publicly stating the source of the record donation to the DUP.
The CRC is legally defined as an unincorporated association, permitted to donate money to political parties, campaigns and individuals in elective office.
Opposite of open democracy
Although the Constitution minister, Chloe Smith, told the debate that responsibility for unincorporated associations lay with the Electoral Commission, and that data held by them was a “treasure trove of information”, Docherty-Hughes said the way the DUP donation was organised was “the exact opposite of open, properly-functioning parliamentary democracy.” He questioned whether anyone in the DUP knew the source of the cash that was largely used to fund pro-leave campaigning on the UK mainland, and whether any “requisite due diligence” was done ahead of the money being accepted.
Under previous Northern Ireland electoral laws, donations to any of the major political parties were protected. The exact origins of £435,000 could have been revealed if the government had honoured its promise last year to back-date legal changes to the time of the 2016 referendum. This did not happen.
Poster boy to cowboy
Doherty-Hughes said Cook, a Tory candidate in the 2010 general election in East Renfrewshire, who had been photographed alongside the former prime minister, David Cameron, and with the current leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson was “a poster boy for the way in which unincorporated associations have been used to funnel vast swathes of dark money into our political process.” …”