Rees-Mogg’s hard Brexit group is being probed over a secret bank account: Commons watchdog concerned Tory set is ‘misusing public funds’ to support its campaign to crush May’s Chequers plan
- The European Research Group is led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker
- Emails show it had a ‘second’ bank account for wining and dining supporters
- The group sparked a feud this week by pledging to kill off Mrs May’s ‘soft Brexit
- Its funding is now being investigated by Commons watchdog the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
The Tory Brexit group linked to a plot to bring down Theresa May is being investigated by Parliamentary watchdogs over a secret bank account, it emerged last night.
Emails show that the European Research Group, led by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and ex-Brexit Minister Steve Baker, has a ‘second’ bank account to pay for wining and dining supporters.
The group sparked a Tory feud this week by pledging to kill off Mrs May’s ‘soft Brexit’ Chequers plan.
Emails show that the European Research Group, led by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured) and ex-Brexit Minister Steve Baker, has a ‘second’ bank account to pay for wining and dining supporters
Britain’s former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (pictured right) speaks during a meeting of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) in central London this week
At a private meeting, some of its 80 Conservative MP supporters called for her to be ousted.
Some Tories claim the powerful ERG has become a ‘party within a party’ and their funding is now being investigated by Commons watchdog the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
The watchdog has raised ‘concerns’ at claims the ERG is misusing public funds to support its campaign for a hard Brexit.
IPSA has challenged the ERG about ‘other sources of funding’ it receives on top of cash from Brexiteer Tory MPs via their Commons expenses.
The emails – obtained by the news website ‘openDemocracy’ – reveal the watchdog demanded assurances that the ERG was not breaking strict rules which ban taxpayers’ money being used for party political purposes.
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The watchdog also asked how the money was kept separate from cash it got from MPs.
The ERG replied: ‘We have two bank accounts. One IPSA and one not.’ The ‘non IPSA account’, it explained, ‘pays for functions, MPs breakfasts, drinks etc.’
But the disclosure that it has a ‘second bank account’ to wine and dine supporters is likely to lead to renewed demands for it to reveal where the money comes from, how much it has, what it spends it on and why a ‘research group’ needs a separate entertainments fund.
As an unincorporated organisation the ERG is not obliged to publish its accounts and is notoriously secretive about its membership.
All the mainstream political parties, including the Conservatives, have Parliamentary research groups. Funded by donations from MPs’ expenses, usually between £1,000 and £2,000 a year, they are used to provide background material for speeches.
Conservative MP Marcus Fysh (pictured left), Britain’s former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson (pictured second from left), Britain’s former Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers (pictured second from right), and Britain’s former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis arrive to attend a meeting of the European Research Group
MPs can use the information as they see fit, but because the research groups themselves receive public money, they cannot be used for political campaigning. The ERG is the only Parliamentary research group made up of a faction of a party.
Based in Parliament, it is renowned for its slick professional standards and discipline and its members have openly vowed to destroy Mrs May if she does not back them over Brexit.
It claims to have 80 Tory MP members but refuses to publish their names or those of its other supporters.
Chaired by Mr Rees-Mogg and organised by Mr Baker, it has received at least £300,000 since 2011 in payments from MPs via their expenses. They include past and present pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers such as David Davis, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling.
Critics claim it flouts the spirit, if not the letter, of IPSA laws.
Until now, the ERG was thought to have just the one bank account to store payments from MPs’ expenses for Parliamentary research.
But the emails show it has a second, hitherto undisclosed, account from other undisclosed sources.
Officials from IPSA sought a meeting with the ERG to discuss the matter, though there is no suggestion of any illegality by the ERG.
In a similar review last year, IPSA said it was ‘on the whole’ satisfied the ERG was ‘in compliance’ with Commons rules, while warning it not to repeat a partisan attack on Labour for ‘an irresponsible breach of voters’ trust and creating chaos’ over Brexit.
However, it began a fresh probe into the ERG’s financial and political activities in May, asking for a response to ‘concerns that have been raised with us’ including ‘increasing complaints from members of the public about ERG’.
In a curt reply, the ERG inquired: ‘What are “some of the things that have been raised with us?”’
IPSA said it was investigating ‘concerns that IPSA funding is being used to support pro-Brexit political campaigning.’
And it also asked about the ‘secret second account’, possibly based on an anonymous tip off.
IPSA said it had been told the ERG had ‘other sources of funding, which presumably can be used [for] campaigning/party political activities if you so choose.’ It demanded to know ‘how this separation is maintained’. In another brief reply, the ERG confirmed it did indeed have a ‘second bank account’ – a ‘non IPSA account’ for entertaining MPs.
In an email to IPSA, the ERG said: ‘We don’t as a research group do political campaigning. The MPs separately are politicians.’
An ERG spokesman said: ‘We are strictly compliant with IPSA rules.’ A source said any suggestion of wrongdoing was ‘ludicrous,’ adding: ‘The fact that we have a second account shows how careful we are to ensure IPSA money is used properly.’
The source said the second account had been used for an ERG cocktail party at Mayfair’s Lansdowne Club.
An IPSA spokesman said: ‘We asked the ERG for an assurance that IPSA funding was used in line with the rules of the (Parliamentary) Scheme.’
See the email exchange at: www.opendemocracy.net/
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