Brexit ‘dark money’: Tory busi­ness­man un­der fresh scru­tiny

Scots former can­di­date could be sum­moned by MPs over £435k do­na­tion

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Hutcheon

A FORMER Scot­tish Tory can­di­date linked to a con­tro­ver­sial “dark money” do­na­tion dur­ing the Brexit ref­er­en­dum could be asked to ap­pear in front of MPs.

Richard Cook, chair of the se­cre­tive Con­sti­tu­tional Re­search Coun­cil, which fa­mously gave £435,000 to the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party dur­ing the cam­paign, has been con­tacted about the CRC by a pow­er­ful West­min­ster com­mit­tee.

A spokes­woman for the Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport (DCMS) Com­mit­tee said it had re­ceived “noth­ing in re­sponse” from Cook, adding that one of the op­tions avail­able was to call him to give ev­i­dence in per­son.

How­ever, a spokesman for Cook said: “Richard replied five days in ad­vance of the dead­line. DCMS lost the let­ter.”

The row came as the Prime Min­is­ter’s EU with­drawal plan came un­der fur­ther at­tack at the DUP con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

The Leave side se­cured vic­tory in the EU ref­er­en­dum, but the fund­ing of a num­ber of pro-Brexit groups has been un­der the spot­light ever since. In par­tic­u­lar, busi­ness­man Ar­ron Banks has come un­der pres­sure over the mil­lions of pounds he gave to an un­of­fi­cial Brexit cam­paign,

An­other con­tro­versy erupted after it emerged that the lit­tle- known CRC had pro­vided North­ern Ire­land’s

THERESA May has re­ceived a boost to her flag­ging Brexit plan after Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk rec­om­mended the EU ap­prove the draft deal at a sum­mit which will be staged to­day.

Spain was be­lieved to be con­sid­er­ing boy­cotting the crunch t alks amid con­cerns over Gi­bral­tar, but Span­ish prime min­is­ter Pe­dro Sanchez said he had re­ceived the writ­ten guar­an­tees he needed over Spain’s role in the fu­ture of the Bri­tish ter­ri­tory.

Madrid’s for­eign min­is­ter Josep Bor­rell went fur­ther, say­ing the agree­ment is “highly pos­i­tive for Spain” and “the most im­por­tant” since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 un­der which Gi­bral­tar was ceded to the UK.

Tusk’s com­ments now pave the way for mem­bers of the EU to back a deal which all sides be­lieve has its flaws.

How­ever, May’s plan still faces fierce re­sis­tance at West­min­ster, with many of her own MPs be­liev­ing the North­ern Ire­land “back­stop” could leave the UK trapped in the EU after Brexit.

At yes­ter­day’s con­fer­ence of North­ern Ire­land’s pro-Brexit Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, which helps keep the Tories in of­fice, se­nior DUP and Con­ser­va­tive fig­ures lined up to de­nounce the draft plan.

A key prob­lem in the UK/EU talks has been avoid­ing a hard bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic after the tran­si­tion pe­riod ends in 2020.

Two op­tions are con­tained in the draft: ex­tend­ing the pe­riod of tran­si­tion; or mov­ing to a back­stop which keeps the UK in a cus­toms ar­range­ment with the rest of the EU.

Ac­cord­ing to the draft, the UK could not in­de­pen­dently leave the back­stop, which has in­fu­ri­ated the DUP and pro-Brexit Tories. For the plan to be ac­cepted, May has to re­ceive the sup­port of the EU mem­ber states and the UK Par­lia­ment.

Tusk, a key player in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, yes­ter­day re­leased a state­ment which rec­om­mended the EU states ap­prove the deal: “I be­lieve that we have fi­nally found the best pos­si­ble com­pro­mise. Given all of the above, I will rec­om­mend that on Sun­day we ap­prove the out­come of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

He added: “And although no-one will have rea­sons to be happy on that day, there is one thing I would like to stress: at this crit­i­cal time, the EU27 has passed the test of unity and sol­i­dar­ity.”

How­ever, the speeches at the DUP con­fer­ence showed how hard it will be for Mrs May to se­cure the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity of MPs.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the Prime Min­is­ter: “In the com­ing weeks Par­lia­ment will be faced with a clear choice on the fu­ture of our coun­try.

“To be a free in­de­pen­dent t r ad­ing na­tion leav­ing the EU as one United King­dom or to be locked into an EU strait­jacket, di­vided and di­min­ished.

“The pub­lished With­drawal Agree­ment por­trays a piti­ful and pa­thetic place for the United King­dom. Hun­dreds of pages are de­voted to a back­stop which will bi nd t he United King­dom into tak­ing the rules of the EU with no right to leave and no end date.”

Also ad­dress­ing the Belfast con­fer­ence, former for­eign sec­re­tary Boris John­son helped the Prime Min­is­ter by urg­ing the DUP to stick with their power shar­ing deal with the Con­ser­va­tives.

How­ever, the lead­ing Brex­iter re­sumed his at­tacks on the draft by say­ing the UK was on the verge of “mak­ing a his­toric mis­take”.

“If we are not care­ful, we are go­ing to stay in the cus­toms union, we are go­ing to stay in the sin­gle mar­ket, we are go­ing to be rules-tak­ers,” he said.

“Un­less we junk this back­stop, we will find that Brus­sels have got us ex­actly where they want us – a satel­lite state. Mean­while, the Prime Min­is­ter has writ­ten a “let­ter to the na­tion”, in­sist­ing her with­drawal agree­ment will work “for our whole coun­try and all of our peo­ple, whether you voted Leave or Re­main”.

She wrote: “We will take back con­trol of our bor­ders, by putting an end to the free move­ment of peo­ple once and for all. In­stead of an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem based on where a per­son comes from, we will build one based on the skills and tal­ents a per­son has to of­fer. “We will take back con­trol of our money, by putting an end to vast pay­ments to the EU. In­stead, we will be able to spend Bri­tish tax­pay­ers’ money on our own pri­or­i­ties, like the ex­tra £394 mil­lion per week that we are in­vest­ing in our long-term plan for the NHS.” In an­other de­vel­op­ment, First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon chal­lenged Mrs May to a de­bate on the Brexit pro­pos­als. Amid spec­u­la­tion that the Prime Min­is­ter could de­bate with Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn be­fore MPs vote on the deal, Stur­geon tweeted: “I can’t speak for @jere­mycor­byn, but I’d be up for a full lead­ers de­bate on the ‘deal’. So, how about it PM @there­sa_­may?”

Richard Cook says the com­mit­tee ‘lost the let­ter’ con­tain­ing his re­sponse

Theresa May’s plans were helped by Don­ald Tusk last night, above, but at the DUP con­fer­ence leader Ar­lene Fos­ter and Boris John­son were in no mood to be as gen­er­ous

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