Boris Johnson is creating a ‘trojan horse’ that makes it easier for tax exiles and non-doms to fund UK elections

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

  • Boris Johnson’s government is proposing a new law that would make it easier for non-resident Brits to fund elections in the UK.
  • The law change is being sold as a means to make it easier for British “ex-pats” to vote in the UK.
  • However, campaigners say it is a “Trojan horse” for more foreign money to fund UK elections.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The UK government is bringing in a new law that will make it much easier for British elections to be funded by tax exiles and non-domiciled Brits, campaigners have warned.

The Elections Bill, published on Monday, would allow UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years to join the electoral register, giving them a lifetime right to both vote in and fund elections in the UK.

Under the new rules, overseas voters would not have had to previously appear on any electoral register in the UK in order to vote or donate to political parties.

Since 2009, legislation has sat inactive on the UK’s statute books that would forbid donations from non-domiciled UK citizens.

However, the law has never been brought into force, as the non-domiciled tax status of individuals is confidential and so cannot be verified by regulators or political parties, the Times reported in 2019.

British citizens living abroad can already make donations through UK registered companies that are ultimately owned offshore – and anyone can donate through shadowy unincorporated associations without checks. However, overseas voters currently have to re-register on an annual basis.

The governing Conservative Party accepted more than £1 million from UK citizens living in tax havens ahead of the 2017 general election through existing methods, the Times reported. The new law will remove these barriers.

Cat Smith MP, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow Minister for Democracy, told Insider: “The Conservatives are using the cover of the pandemic to sneak through unprecedented changes to our foreign political donation laws.

“This is yet another example of the Conservatives bending the rules to benefit themselves, making it legal for rich Conservative donors living overseas to bankroll the Conservative Party.

“This loophole will allow foreign political donations to flood our system, undermining the integrity of our democracy. This is all about changing the rules to benefit the Conservative Party with overseas donors able to legally donate to bankroll their campaigns from their offshore tax havens or luxury second homes.

“Foreign donors should not be allowed to financially influence our democratic processes – that right is reserved for citizens living in this country.”

Campaigners warn the bill is being used as a “trojan horse” to funnel financial donations from non-domiciled sources and that it is opening up British politics to “outside influence”.

Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy and a former Liberal Democrat MP, told Insider: “The Elections Bill mustn’t be used as a trojan horse to allow foreign based money to distort UK election results. If wealthy non-doms start making substantial financial donations, questions will be asked about representation without taxation.”

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society told Insider: “Extending the franchise for our elections is a positive move but the government must carefully consider the risks of removing restrictions on overseas electors – the consequence of which could see a rise in foreign political donations.

“There remain a number of loopholes in our election finance rules which leave the door open for foreign influence on our politics. This Elections bill fails to address these concerns whilst potentially creating new avenues for foreign financial donations.

The government defended the law change as an attempt to widen the voting franchise.

Chloe Smith MP, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution, told Insider: “Our commitment to scrapping the arbitrary 15 year limit to overseas voting rights is a promise to citizens across the political spectrum. This is best exemplified by 99 year old veteran campaigner, Harry Shindler, who also happens to be the oldest serving member of the Labour Party.

“British citizens living overseas have an ongoing interest in politics in the United Kingdom and in our increasingly digital world, people living overseas are able to be more connected to their home country. It is only right that they are able to have their say in our democracy.”

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Labour demands investigation into whether Conservative MP Karl McCartney hid links to family firm

Karl McCartney MP
Karl McCartney MP

  • Labour has asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate Conservative MP Karl McCartney.
  • Insider has revealed McCartney made apparently false declarations in his parliamentary register of interests.
  • Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds told Insider: “If Karl McCartney is moonlighting, we need to know who for.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The UK Labour Party has urged Parliament’s sleaze watchdog to investigate Conservative MP Karl McCartney after he appeared to make false declarations about his links to a family firm, Moonlighting Limited.

Insider has previously reported that McCartney claimed more than £30,000 in public funds for Parliamentary work carried out by a company run by a donor to his first campaign to become a member of parliament.

McCartney has also declared that he is an “unpaid director of ML Systems Ltd”, an IT management and consultancy firm, which is now dissolved.

However, Insider discovered that McCartney’s entry in fact refers to a different active company named Moonlighting Systems Limited, whose sole director is McCartney’s brother, Kevin.

McCartney is listed as a secretary of that company, and a minority shareholder. Companies House records show McCartney has not been a director of Moonlighting Systems since 1999.

Insider previously revealed that McCartney also appeared to hide the name of another company in his expenses claims, providing only the letter A to refer to Anagallis Communications, a firm run by a donor.

Following Insider’s investigation, the chair of the Labour Party, Anneliese Dodds, has asked Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate if McCartney has broken House of Commons rules.

In her letter, seen by Insider, Dodds writes: “Karl McCartney has held a role at his family business for over twenty years, yet has omitted its full name from his register of financial interests. I am sure you will agree that it is in the public interest that Members of Parliament accurately register their financial interests.

“A member of the public seeking to understand those interests in relation to the Member for Lincoln may currently be led to believe that he is part of a company that is no longer trading. The Member for Lincoln’s failure to register the full and proper name for the company he does represent could also mislead, as could his inaccurate description of his current role.”

She asks: “Does the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards consider this to be an acceptable entry in the Members’ Register of Financial Interests? If not, can you set out what steps you intend to take to compel the Member for Lincoln to correct the record?”

She told Insider: “If Karl McCartney is moonlighting, we need to know who for – and he shouldn’t hide behind the name of a company that no longer exists.

“The rules are there for a reason, the Conservatives can’t just act as if they don’t apply to them.”

McCartney’s declaration of Moonlighting Systems as ML Systems dates back to when he was first elected in 2010.

Insider approached McCartney for comment but did not receive any response by the time of publication.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Moonlighting Systems or McCartney’s brother.

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George Galloway promised to give unused funds from his general election campaign to ‘local food banks’ but no evidence of a donation has been found

George Galloway
George Galloway

  • EXCLUSIVE: George Galloway’s promise to donate unused campaign funds to good causes is under scrutiny.
  • Galloway said he would give excess funds raised in his 2019 UK general election campaign to “local food banks”.
  • However, West Bromwich food bank says they received nothing from Galloway.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

George Galloway’s promise to donate unused funds from his 2019 UK general election campaign to “local food banks” has been called into question after an investigation by Insider found no evidence any money had ever been transferred.

The former member of parliament, who is standing to win next week’s Batley and Spen by-election, set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding page in July 2019 for his then attempt to win a seat in West Bromwich East.

Galloway told potential supporters of the crowdfunding campaign that “all unspent monies [from the crowdfund] will be distributed to local food banks.” He had raised more than £24,000 by the end of 2019.

Galloway’s spending returns, obtained by Insider, show he spent just £8,749 during the election campaign, suggesting a potential surplus of up to £15,000 from the crowdfunding campaign.

However, the coordinator of the West Bromwich Food Bank, Keith Turner, told Insider that they had not received any money from the former MP, saying: “The West Brom food bank has never received a donation of any amount from Mr Galloway.”

In an interview with Insider, Galloway insisted that “we spent most of the money we raised in the West Bromwich election.”

However, pushed on whether he had donated any remaining surplus to local food banks he said that “I don’t know what happened in West Brom.”

Galloway did not respond to any further questions about his promise to donate any surplus funds to local food banks prior to publication.

Labour accused Galloway of trying to “take people for fools.”

“George Galloway cannot be trusted,” Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party told Insider.

“This just shows his priority is trying to take people for fools and trying to raise money to boost his ego wherever he can.”

A Conservative source told Insider: “He pops up thinking he can expose and deepen community divisions, loses badly and then repeats. At least voters now know where they stand with him.”

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The UK government asks schoolchildren to sing ‘One Nation, One Britain’ song as it marks Brexit anniversary

Boris Johnson One Nation One Britain
Boris Johnson

  • UK asks schoolchildren to sing “One Nation, One Britain” song as the country marks 5 years since Brexit.
  • The call by the Education department was met with thousands of mostly derisive responses.
  • The UK on Wednesday marked the anniversary of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The UK government has backed a campaign for schoolchildren to come together and sing a song for “One Nation, One Britain day”, as the country marks five years since the vote to leave the European Union.

The Education Department on Tuesday tweeted a link to the campaign, which has been championed by Conservative members of Parliament.

The song, which includes the lyrics “We are Britain and we have one dream to unite all people in one great team”, ends with the line “Strong Britain, Great Nation,” repeated four times.

The campaign website, linked to by the government, is encouraging school children to sing the song this Friday.

The call was met with widespread mockery on social media, with thousands of responses to the tweet by the department headed up by Gavin Williamson.

Downing Street figures have since distanced themselves from the call, Politico reported on Wednesday.

It comes as the UK marks five years since the vote for Brexit. Marking the occasion, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday that: “The decision to leave the EU may now part of our history, but our clear mission is to utilise the freedoms it brings to shape a better future for our people.”

A poll published on Tuesday suggests that a narrow majority of British people now oppose Brexit.

51% of people told pollsters Savanta/Comres that they would vote to Remain in the EU, as opposed to 49% who would still back Britain’s exit.

Separate polling released by NatCen and What the UK thinks this week found limited enthusiasm for the terms of Britain’s exit, however.

Just 21% in Britain said the UK had left the EU with a good deal, compared with 36% who said it had secured a bad deal.

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Is Keir Starmer’s time as Labour leader about to come to an early end?

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

  • Keir Starmer’s future as Labour Party leader may be in peril.
  • Historically poor recent election results for the party have left him vulnerable.
  • Starmer has so far retained the support of most Labour MPs.
  • However, defeat in next week’s Batley and Spen by-election could spark a challenge.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Labour party’s historically poor showing in the Chesham and Amersham by-election last week was followed by reports that senior members of his Shadow Cabinet are secretly plotting to oust him.

“Backers of Ms [Angela] Rayner and fellow frontbencher Lisa Nandy have already started ringing round Labour MPs to ask for their backing if Sir Keir goes,” The Sun reported.

The result also coincided with the departure of key senior aides, adding up to a mounting sense that his leadership may be in peril.

However, Labour MPs Insider spoke to over the weekend were quick to dismiss suggestions of an immediate challenge to Starmer and variously described reports that one would come soon as “hot air,” and “insane”.

One MP, on the left of the party, who has been very critical of Starmer, said simply that an immediate challenge “isn’t happening.”

However, they added that things could quickly change if Labour loses in the upcoming Batley and Spen by-election.

“I think with Batley and Spen so close none of those interested in [challenging Starmer] wants to risk being left open to the attack they cost us the seat by coming out of the traps first,” the MP told Insider.

“After Batley and Spen that won’t apply.”

Crunch time for Keir

Keir Starmer and Kim Leadbetter
Keir Starmer and Kim Leadbetter

A defeat in Batley and Spen would be incredibly dangerous for Starmer for several reasons.

The seat, at least on paper, is much easier for Labour to hold onto than Hartlepool, which Labour also lost last month.

Not only has the constituency historically been a very safe seat, but the party has also chosen a solid candidate.

Kim Leadbetter is a long-term local who is the sister of the seat’s former MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right extremist back in 2016.

Starmer would find few excuses available to him if his party manages to lose.

The Lib Dem’s impressive victory in Chesham and Amersham has destroyed the strongest defence for Starmer, that his party’s weak recent electoral showings are down to a “vaccine bounce” for the Conservatives.

After all, if the Lib Dems are able to pull off a big electoral victory over the Conservatives during the vaccine rollout then why shouldn’t the Labour party?

For these reasons, if Labour does somehow manage to lose the seat to the Conservatives, as one poll this week suggests they might, then Starmer’s future could be in serious doubt.

Some of his more optimistic critics in the party believe Starmer may not even contest such a challenge.

“You get the impression that Keir doesn’t want the job anymore,” a Labour MP critical of Starmer told Insider.

“It’s possible the [communications] team departures are a presage of that. Why carry on busting your balls when you know your boss has lost his mojo and is unlikely to be PM.

“I’m not even sure Keir would contest it.”

However, others in the party believe that talk of a challenge right now is “insanity,” just one year after he became leader.

One long-term supporter of Starmer pointed to similarly poor by-election performances in the 1990s, after which the party went on to win a historic landslide against the Conservatives.

“People should grow up and focus on building a winning coalition,” the MP told Insider.

Despite Starmer’s recent troubles, many Labour MPs remain supportive of him and would be reluctant to allow a leadership challenge which could result in a political ally to previous Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn winning back the party.

However, few people have lost money over the years on betting against more Labour infighting.

Whatever else happens, defeat in Batley and Spen would almost certainly be followed by a period of intense party discord at the very least, with a challenge against his leadership certainly possible.

As one Labour MP critical of Starmer put it: “Early July will be very interesting come what may.”

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Boris Johnson plans to resign after the next election to ‘make money and have fun,’ says Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

  • Boris Johnson plans to resign after the next election to “make money” his former chief aide has said.
  • Dominic Cummings claims the prime minister has a “clear plan” for his resignation.
  • Cummings published private Whatsapp communications with the prime minister.
  • The prime minister branded the Health Secretary Matt Hancock “f***ing hopeless.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to resign after the next general election in order to “make money and have fun,” his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings has claimed.

Cummings published a series of Whatsapp messages between himself and the prime minister on Wednesday, including ones in which Johnson branded his Health Secretary Matt Hancock “totally f*****g hopeless.”

However, he also revealed a claim that his former boss plans to resign after winning another general election.

Cummings wrote on his new Substack account that Johnson “has a clear plan to leave at the latest a couple of years after the next election, he wants to make money and have fun not ‘go on and on.'”

Reports about Johnson’s plans to step down have repeatedly emerged over recent months and years, with reporters quoting sources suggesting that the prime minister does not enjoy his position and is plagued with money problems.

Cummings has released a series of potentially damaging claims about his former boss in recent weeks, including suggestions that the prime minister said that he would rather have bodies “pile up” than allow a further coronavirus lockdown.

Downing Street has largely refused to either confirm or deny the most damaging specific claims made by Cummings.

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Boris Johnson called his Health Secretary Matt Hancock ‘f*****g hopeless’ leaked WhatsApp messages show

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock
  • Boris Johnson called his Health Secretary Matt Hancock ‘totally f*****g hopeless.’
  • Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings published the messages on his new Substack.
  • Cummings has revealed a series of claims against his former boss in recent weeks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boris Johnson called his Health Secretary Matt Hancock “totally f*****g useless,” according to bombshell messages published by the prime minister’s estranged former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Hancock last week accused Cummings, who left Downing Street acrimoniously last year, of failing to produce evidence to support his claims that Hancock had lied frequently to the prime minister throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Cummings told MPs that Hancock should have been sacked for dishonesty on multiple occasions, and said the former secretary Mark Sedwill had told the prime minister in mid-April that he had “lost confidence” in the health secretary.

Cummings on Wednesday said he had felt compelled to publish official documents and screenshots of WhatsApp messages between himself and the prime minister to verify those claims, saying that Downing Street and Hancock himself had “openly” lied last week to protect Hancock’s reputation.

In a blog post, Cummings alleged that Johnson had frequently been frustrated with Hancock’s performance throughout the coronavirus pandemic last year.

“Hancock gave a fictitious account to MPs last week and portrayed himself as a heroic figure who had been in agreement with the PM throughout the crisis,” Cummings said in the blog post, which was published on Substack.

In one screenshotted exchange apparently between himself and the prime minister, Cummings appeared to highlight the urgent need for the government to ramp up COVID-19 testing across the country, and criticising Hancock for missing targets he had previously set.

Johnson replied: “Totally f*****g hopeless.”

Dominic Cummings
Alleged exchange between Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson on 27 March, 2020.

In another, later the same day, Cummings said that officials had “totally f****d up” procurement of medical ventilators – which were needed to treat COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

Johnson replied: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”

Alleged exchange between Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson, 27 March 2021.
Alleged WhatsApp exchange between Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson, 27 March 2021.

“The PM has supported this fiction and ordered the No 10 press office to support many arguments he knows are lies,” Cummings said in the blogpost.

“If No 10 is prepared to lie so deeply and widely about such vital issues of life and death last year, it cannot be trusted now either on covid or any other crucial issue of war and peace.”

Insider contacted Downing Street for comment.

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Joe Biden was corrected by Boris Johnson after the president interrupted him at the G7 summit

Joe Biden points while sitting next to Boris Johnson at the G7 Summit
Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at the G7 summit

  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson seen correcting US President Joe Biden at this weekend’s G7 summit.
  • Biden wrongly suggested Johnson hadn’t introduced South African president Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • The UK Prime Minister appeared to twice wave away the president’s interruptions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was seen correcting US President Joe Biden at this weekend’s G7 Summit in Cornwall, England, after the president interrupted him to wrongly suggest that Johnson had failed to introduce South Africa’s president at a roundtable of world leaders.

Johnson appeared to twice wave away Biden’s interruptions on Saturday, while he was hosting a roundtable of world leaders at the G7 summit.

The UK prime minister welcomed India’s prime minister Narendra Modi via video-link and then introduced South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, who joined the leaders of the G7 grouping, which comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“And the president of South Africa,” Biden added to Johnson.

“And the president of South Africa, as I said earlier on,” Johnson replied.

“Oh, you did,” Biden said.

“I did, I certainly did,” Johnson said.

It was not clear from footage of the incident whether Biden had not heard Johnson introduced President Ramaphosa or whether he was unaware of his name and therefore had not realized that Johnson had already introduced him.

World leaders agreed at the summit – the major first in-person meeting of the G7 since the coronavirus pandemic – to donate one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries over the next 12 months.

They also agreed to take more action on climate change and renewed a pledge to raise $100 billion a year to help poor countries cut carbon emissions.

However, some charities and campaign groups said the commitments were vague in their wording did not go far enough.

“Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world,” said Oxfam’s head of inequality policy Max Lawson in a statement cited by the Guardian.

“We don’t need to wait for history to judge this summit a colossal failure, it is plain for all to see.”

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Boris Johnson’s peerage to disgraced donor who gave the Conservatives £500,000 after the PM forced through his nomination, faces legal challenge

conservative lord peter Cruddas
Peter Cruddas

  • EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson’s nomination of disgraced Tory donor Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge.
  • The Good Law Project is challenging Johnson’s decision, saying it was unlawful.
  • Cruddas gave £500,000 to the Conservatives just days after Johnson overruled official advice not to do so.
  • “Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy,” the Good Law Project’s Jolyon Maugham tells Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boris Johnson’s decision to overrule a move to block his nomination of a disgraced Conservative Party donor to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge, Insider can reveal.

Johnson forced through the nomination of Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HoLAC).

Cruddas then handed Johnson’s party a further £500,000 just days after Johnson forced through his peerage.

Now that decision is being challenged by the Good Law Project, who have instructed the solicitors Bindmans to send a letter before claim as part of a proposal for a judicial review of Johnson’s decision to nominate Cruddas to the peerage.

Jo Maugham, a barrister and director of the Good Law Project, told Insider: “Despite the House of Lords Appointments Commission advising against it, Boris Johnson made Peter Cruddas a Lord. Just days later, Peter Cruddas donated half a million pounds to the Conservative Party. He threw his money around and now gets to shape laws that affect all of our lives.

“Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy. We can’t allow it to continue.”

In their letter, seen by Insider, the Good Law Project say that the nomination “was unlawful because of apparent bias. A fair-minded and informed observer, presented with the facts of the matter, would conclude that there was a real possibility or danger of bias in the Defendant’s decision making.

“Of particular significance in this regard is the timing of major donations by Peter Cruddas. In particular, in January 2020, one month before it became public knowledge that he was to be nominated, he made a £250,000 donation. Three days after he became a peer, he made a further £500,000 donation, the single largest donation he has made to date.”

Johnson accused of unlawfully rewarding disgraced peer

Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The Good Law Project, which has won a series of victories against the government in recent months, says that when vetting nominees, HoLAC takes into consideration “the credibility of individuals who have made significant political donations, loans or credit arrangements”.

They say the “obvious inference is that the past donations and the prospects of future donations were taken into account when [the Prime Minister] decided to grant the peerage. A decision taken in whole or in part on the basis of such a consideration is unlawful.”

Should the case go ahead, the Good Law Project “will be seeking a declaration that the decision to nominate Peter Cruddas for a peerage was unlawful.”

They will be seeking Johnson to recognize this, and then to “undertake to consider what steps should flow from that confirmation”.

Rather than challenging Johnson’s exercise of the prerogative power to grant honours, the Good Law Project say they are seeking a judicial review of his use of a power under the Life Peerages Act 1958.

Prerogative powers have recently been the subject of judicial review, including a case against Johnson’s government and his advice in 2019 to the Queen which led to the prorogation of Parliament, which was found by the UK Supreme Court to be “null and of no effect” – as if it had never happened.

The man winning legal victories against the UK government

Jolyon Maugham
Jo Maugham QC

Maugham and the Good Law Project have become a “target” for government ministers, due to their string of successful legal challenges against the UK government, the Mail on Sunday reported.

On Wednesday, legal action brought by the Good Law Project against senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove led to the High Court ruling Gove acted unlawfully in handing a £560,000 contract to the firm Public First for market research.

The High Court said there was “apparent bias” in the decision by the Cabinet Office.

Public First’s owners had both worked with Gove and Dominic Cummings, a former senior aide to both Johnson and Gove.

The advice of HoLAC has not been published, but some of their objections to Cruddas’s nominations are apparent in the letter sent by Johnson to the chair of HoLAC, Lord Bew, when he explained why he was overruling their advice and nominating Cruddas to the peerage.

While co-treasurer of the Conservative Party in March 2012, the Sunday Times published an investigation carried out by undercover reporters alleging that Cruddas had offered them access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in return for £250,000 of donations.

Cruddas resigned as co-treasurer in the wake of the story, and would go on to sue the paper successfully for libel, winning £180,000 in damages.

However, the Sunday Times appealed, with damages being reduced to £50,000, and the judges finding that the central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other politicians was accurate. The judges said Cruddas’s actions were “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

In his letter to Lord Bew, Johnson described these concerns as “historic” and stated that “an internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part”.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “All individuals are nominated in recognition of their contribution to society and their public and political service.

“Lord Cruddas has a broad range of experiences and insights across the charitable, business and political sectors which allow him to make a hugely valuable contribution to the work of the Lords.”

A spokesperson for Lord Cruddas was contacted for comment.

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A Conservative Lord has donated £8,000 to the Tories while claiming thousands of pounds in furlough cash

james Wharton donation conservatives
James Wharton

  • EXCLUSIVE: A Conservative peer has donated £8,000 to Boris Johnson’s party while his firm claims thousands of pounds in furlough payments.
  • Lord Wharton helped Johnson become Conservative leader and Prime Minister and was made a peer by Johnson in 2020.
  • His company made the donation while claiming up to £10,000 a month in furlough aid from the government.
  • Johnson’s government controversially appointed Wharton as chair of the independent universities regulator earlier this year.
  • An “urgent investigation” is required, campaigners say.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Conservative peer, who was put in charge of regulating universities by Boris Johnson’s government, has donated £8,000 to the party while claiming thousands of pounds through the furlough scheme at the same time.

Lord James Wharton is the sole director of GBMW Ltd, a consultancy firm he established after losing his seat of Stockton South in the 2017 general election.

Electoral Commission records released on Thursday show GBMW Ltd gave the Conservative Party £8,000 in March 2021.

His entry of registered interests says the company provides “strategic and management advice, and [runs] his private offices.”

At the same time, data released by HM Revenue and Customs shows GBMW Ltd was claiming furlough money from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Figures show claims of between £1 to £10,000 per month made by GBMW Ltd from December 2020 to March 2021, the most recent point to which the data is available.

The scheme was presented by the UK government as a means to encourage firms who would otherwise be unable to retain staff during the pandemic, to do so.

However, the most recent set of accounts published at Companies House for GBMW Ltd show the firm had £186,216 in reserves at the end of June 2019, and employed two staff.

In February, The New European reported Wharton had set up a buy-to-let property business, JRF Housing, with the firm purchasing a £65,000 flat in Seascale and an £83,000 house in Stockton-in-Tees.

Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “James Wharton’s career has gone from strength to strength since he helped Boris Johnson become Prime Minister. First a seat in the Lords, then a crony job. And the Conservative Party gets a four-figure cheque from his company.

“As ever with the Conservatives, it’s a case of one rule for them and their chums and another for everyone else.”

Lord Wharton was appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in August 2020 after being Johnson’s campaign manager in the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election.

In February 2021, Wharton was controversially appointed as the chair of the Office for Students by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

In a pre-appointment hearing, Wharton told Members of Parliament’s education committee that he would be retaining the Conservative whip in the post, which comes with a salary of £59,000 a year for two days a week.

He said: “I can absolutely assure the Committee that I recognize the crucial importance of the regulator being independent. I intend to uphold that and, where it comes into conflict, my first duty will be ensuring that that independence is given paramount importance and upheld.”

At the time, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, called for an investigation into Wharton’s appointment. She wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, warning that “the higher education sector and the wider public will be deeply concerned that this is simply another example of cronyism”.

“Is continuing to take the Conservative whip while in post consistent with the seven principles of public life, particularly his ability to make objective decisions?” she asked.

Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “This would appear to be a clear breach of the spirit of the furlough scheme. It also clearly undermines the independence of Wharton’s role as a regulator. This needs an urgent investigation.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told Insider: “Justifiably, the government cast a wide net to catch everyone who could be affected by this coronavirus crisis. But recipients should keep in mind that this money ultimately comes from taxpayers, and support should only be sought if it’s really needed.”

Insider has contacted Lord Wharton for comment.

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