Former UK PM Theresa May earned £1.86 million in her 2 years since leaving Downing Street, figures show

Letters begin to fall off the backdrop, “BUILDING A COUNTRY THAT WORKS OR EVERYON” as British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her keynote speech to delegates and party members on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 4, 2017 in Manchester, England.
Theresa May delivers her keynote speech at the 2017 Conservative Party conference as letters begin to fall off the backdrop.

  • Former UK PM Theresa May has earned £1,861,776 for speeches since leaving Downing Street.
  • The income is from 27 speeches since December 2019, paid at an average of £8,130 per hour.
  • Saturday marks two years since May left office, leaving her free to begin lobbying the government.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May earned £1,861,776 for speeches since leaving Downing Street in July 2019, research by Insider found.

Since joined the Washington Speakers Bureau in December 2019, for which she received a £190,000 signing bonus, and since then has registered 27 engagements at an average of £77,574 per speech.

As an MP, May is required to declare earnings from outside parliament, as well as the hours for each piece of work.

May has declared 229 hours of work for the preparation, delivery, and travel around the speeches, creating an average hourly rate of £8,130.03.

Among May’s audiences have been JP Morgan Chase, which paid £160,370 for two talks in April 2020; Brown University and Trinity University, Texas, which both paid £115,000 for speeches in March 2020; and the French asset management company Amundi, which paid £39,900 for an address in January 2021.

Travel restrictions meant at least 13 of May’s speeches since September 2020 were held virtually. These virtual speeches brought in an average of £41,749. In-person speeches brought in an average of £112,904.

May’s earnings are not paid to her directly, but to the Office of Theresa May.

That money is used to “pay employees, maintain my ongoing involvement in public life and support my charitable work”, according to her entry on Parliament’s register of members’ interests.

She also says she takes an £85,000 salary from the company for 24 hours a month.

May stepped down as Prime Minister on 24 July 2019 after failing to secure backing for her deal to remove the UK from the European Union. Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership contest to succeed her.

This Saturday, 24 July, will mark two years since May left office. It is also the point at which Westminster’s lobbying rules will no longer apply to many of the ministers who served under her.

Ex-ministers who lost their jobs when Boris Johnson took over will be free to lobby the government and take up jobs without consulting the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the lobbying watchdog.

After Philip Hammond, who served as May’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, was given particularly stringent lobbying restrictions for two years from the point he left the government, he told the Daily Mail: “I found this quite a strange decision to understand. I haven’t sought to challenge it because the Acoba control period for me ends on July 24.”

Insider asked May’s office to comment on her speaking income but did not receive a response by time of publication.

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Labour spent £897.60 on flyers marked with the English flag for the Hartlepool by-election, which it lost

Keir Starmer and Paul Williams wave as they walk down the street.
Sir Keir Starmer and Dr Paul Williams in Hartlepool.

  • Exclusive: Official spending returns show Labour spent £897.60 on flyers for St George’s Day.
  • The flyers cost it more than its more traditional push to encourage sign-ups for postal voting.
  • Labour lost the by-election, despite spending £8,000 more than the Conservatives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Labour Party spent nearly £900 on St George’s Day flyers emblazoned with the English flag as part of its unsuccessful campaign in the Hartlepool by-election, Insider can disclose.

The electoral spending return, signed by the party’s candidate Paul Williams, includes details on the expenditure in the constituency, which was previously held by Labour.

Jill Mortimer, a Conservative, went on to win the seat in a 16% swing from Labour. It was only the second time since the 1980s that an opposition party lost a seat to the governing party.

This tweet from Williams shows one of the leaflets. St George’s day was April 23, two weeks before polling day on May 6.

Despite losing the by-election, the Labour Party spent more than its rivals, declaring £95,139.05 out of a limit of £100,000. The Conservatives said they spent only £86,991.77.

The Conservatives’ largest expenditure was on £21,950.57 in direct mail to voters, followed by £21,600 on “research.”

The Labour Party’s expenditure on the St George’s Day leaflet is noted as being more than the £312 the party spent on an A5 leaflet for polling week; the £567 spent on “postal vote cards”; or the £46.50 spent on early vote sign-up cards. Other receipts for £1,060 from the same firm were for a quantity of 40,000 “pledge leaflets”.

The A5 flyers featured St George’s cross on one side and on the other wished voters “Happy St George’s Day from Dr Paul Williams and the Labour team.”

It encouraged recipients to “display this poster with pride in your window. Please enjoy St George’s Day in a Covid-secure way, helping us all defeat the virus together,” the Telegraph reported.

The flyers came months after a leak to the Guardian of an internal Labour party presentation, which said there needed to be stronger communication of “Labour’s respect and commitment for the country.”

It suggested that “the use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly at the war memorial etc give voters a sense of authentic values alignment”.

Previous attempts by the Labour Party to discuss St George’s Cross saw the resignation of a shadow cabinet minister, Emily Thornberry, over a photograph of a house with three English flags and a white van.

Another shadow cabinet minister suggested that the party must “wrap itself in the St George’s flag” following their defeat in the 2015 general election, the Independent reported.

A Labour spokesperson told the Telegraph in April: “Paul and the campaign team were proud to celebrate St George’s Day and enjoyed a sunny day having lots of positive conversations with voters.”

The Labour Party is currently in a poor financial state, according to comments made by the party’s general secretary, David Evans, reported by LabourList.

Its problems were said to stem from lower of income due to declining membership, and the cost of dealing with antisemitism cases.

Insider has contacted Labour for comment.

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Boris Johnson will isolate after public backlash following announcement that he will dodge quarantine rules

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

  • Boris Johnson was exposed to COVID-19 in a meeting with Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
  • NHS policy means that he should isolate for 10 days – but Johnson was part of a pilot study, meaning he can continue to work.
  • National outrage has meant he has had to perform a sharp U-Turn and remove himself from the pilot study
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a speedy U-turn in response to public backlash, the British Prime Minister will be isolating after being exposed to COVID-19.

On Friday, July 16th, Johnson had an in-person meeting with Sajid Javid, the newly-appointed UK health secretary.

The following day, Javid took to Twitter to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

On the morning of 18 July, Johnson was then “pinged” by the NHS COVID-19 app – a contact tracing app used to identify those exposed to Covid and therefore must isolate to stop the spread.

In contrast to common practice, 10 Downing Street announced that the Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak – Chancellor of the Exchequer – would not be isolating, and would instead be participating in a pilot scheme and going into his office to continue “essential Government business.”

However, mass public backlash caused this announcement to be reversed in less than two hours.

Sunak took to Twitter to announce that “I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.”

When first announced on Saturday morning, Number 10 stated that the two Politicians would be participating in a pilot study to take daily COVID-19 tests rather than self isolate.

The announcement caused a significant fury on social media, with the topic of self-isolation already a sore subject with the British public as more than 500,000 people told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace in the last week alone.

In reaction to the news, #oneruleforthem was trending on Twitter, with people furious that the Prime Minister can bypass regulations that impact the public.

One teacher tweeted that her school class had to miss 10 days of school due to isolation following a COVID exposure.

Several workplaces – including 10 Downing Street – are reportedly participating in this pilot to see how the UK workforce can operate whilst the virus continues to circulate. However, the politicians will not be doing so.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Insider:

“The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid.

“He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.

“He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.”

This is the latest case in a string of Covid-related controversies involving the most senior of the UK Government.

On June 26, then-Health Secretary Matt Hancockstepped down from his positionafter leaked footage showed him kissing his aide in his office whilst Covid restrictions banned such intimate contact.

Last year, the senior advisor to Boris Johnson – Dominic Cummings – sparked national fury when it was revealed that he drove over 200 miles in a national lockdown whilst being positive for COVID-19.

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Chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog under investigation for alleged breach of transparency rules

Lord Eric Pickles
Lord Eric Pickles, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

  • The chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation for alleged breaches of transparency rules.
  • Eric Pickles, a Tory peer, declared he is the director of Oakworth Services, a consultancy firm.
  • House of Lords rules require peers to describe the company’s business, which Pickles did not.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The chairman of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation over an allegation he breached transparency rules when disclosing ties to a consultancy firm he runs.

Eric Pickles, a member of the House of Lords and a former Tory minister, is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).

ACOBA is responsible for applying rules that forbid former ministers, senior civil servants and senior special advisers from lobbying after they leave the government.

Pickles, along with his wife, is a director of Oakworth Services Ltd. The firm’s entry on Companies House describes Pickles’s occupation as a “Consultant”.

Pickles’s entry on the House of Lords register of interests says only that Oakworth Services Ltd is a “consultancy”, providing no further details on its work, openDemocracy reported on Thursday.

On Friday, the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards announced that Pickles’s registration of an interest was the subject of an inquiry.

The rules of the House of Lords require peers to “give a broad indication of the company’s business, where this is not self-evident from its name”.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and former chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee told openDemocracy: “There is a problematic lack of transparency in the Lords”.

Pickles told Insider that the company had not received any income since he became chair of ACOBA.

He also said that he had given up all paid outside interests since becoming chair and that all previous clients were declared separately.

Pickles, along with the other peer on ACOBA, also gives notably less forthcoming disclosures as part of his work on the committee.

In ACOBA’s register of interests, both Pickles and Labour peer Larry Whitty, refer to their entries on the House of Lords register of interests, which deal only with their personal affairs.

Meanwhile the seven other members of ACOBA also disclose the interests of close family members, such as the jobs of their spouses and children, as well as their past paid work.

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A UK Cabinet minister endorsed a telecoms firm that gave £21,500 to Conservative MPs

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party MP for Hertsmere, leaves 10 Downing Street in London.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

  • EXCLUSIVE: A firm that gave £21,500 to Tory MPs received support from a senior minister.
  • Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, spoke at the virtual launch of IX Wireless’s network.
  • James Wharton, a Conservative peer and donor, is a director of the firm’s controlling company.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A telecoms company that gave more than £20,000 to Conservative MPs benefitted from the ringing endorsement of a senior UK Cabinet minister, Insider can reveal.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), appeared at a virtual launch event for IX Wireless’s broadband network in Blackburn, England, in early June.

Dowden’s department is responsible for the UK communications regulator, Ofcom.

On Wednesday, seven Conservative backbench MPs declared a total of £21,500 in donations from IX Wireless between January and July 2021. Dowden was not one of them.

Here are two entries Wednesday showing the donations:

IX Wireless donation record Matt Vickers
A parliamentary record of a donation from IX Wireless to Conservative MP Matt Vickers.

IX Wireless donation record Simon Fell
A parliamentary record of donations from IX Wireless to Conservative MP Simon Fell.

In a promotional video released by IX Wireless, Dowden can be seen in his ministerial office speaking with IX Wireless executives:

IX Wireless Blackburn Launch from on Vimeo.

They include its founder, the businessman Tahir Mohsan, and CFO Philip Walker.

Dowden praised the firm and its Blackburn network, saying: “I am delighted to join you for the virtual opening of your Blackburn gigabit network, which is really going to provide some of the fastest broadband on the planet to tens of thousands of people across the North West.

He describes its work as “part of this government’s once-in-a-lifetime upgrade to the digital infrastructure.”

“I would like to really pay tribute to you and other alternative network providers in that mission, particularly in the North West. The Blackburn network has been built in only nine months and I know you have got very exciting ambitions to reach another 250,000 premises this year and to reach 4 million premises by 2025.”

Dowden’s claim the network had only been built in only nine months is at odds with previous releases from the firm, which first announced the network in mid-2019, ISPreview reported.

Dowden tied the company’s work in with the government’s wider “leveling up” agenda, saying: “I think this is some of the most important work that we are doing in government, particularly in our bid to level up the north and the rest of the UK.”

Dowden said he hopes to support the company in the future “through many many more moments just like this.”

Companies House records show IX Wireless is controlled by Cohiba Communications. One of Cohiba’s three directors is James Wharton, a former Conservative MP who now sits in the House of Lords as a Tory peer.

Wharton’s entry on the House of Lords’s register of interests says he is providing consultancy services to IX Wireless.

Another of his clients is the firm Aquind, which has similarly made donations to Conservative MPs and gained the support of government ministers, as well as lobbying them, The Times of London reported.

Wharton is also the chair of the Office for Students and has made political donations to the Conservative party while claiming furlough support from the government, Insider has previously reported.

Most of the MPs who received funds from IX Wireless represent constituencies near the area the firm are planning to build their network in northwestern England.

But one MP, Matt Vickers, holds a constituency on the other side of the country – Wharton’s former seat of Stockton South.

Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the opposition Labour Party, told Insider: “Boris Johnson’s decision to reward James Wharton with a peerage continues to pay off for the Conservatives.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about companies with links to Johnson’s chum dishing out cash to Tory MPs.

“Day after day we hear of new cases of Tory sleaze. The Conservatives have to clean up their act and put an end to this grubby cronyism.”

Steve Goodrich, Head of Research and Investigations at Transparency International UK told Insider: “When elected to Parliament, it is critical our representatives scrupulously avoid any activity that could give the perception of being in the pocket of vested interests.

“Donations from companies and wealthy individuals have the potential to create conflicts of interest if the concerns of MPs’ financial backers are at odds with those of their constituents.

“Voters need to be able to trust that decisions are always being taken in the public interest and not on the basis of a commercial relationship.”

A DCMS spokesperson told Insider: “We work closely with the telecoms sector to boost digital connectivity and level up the country and Ministers regularly support industry announcements.

“This event was handled by the department in the usual way and the Secretary of State has no personal connection to the company in question.”

Insider asked DCMS if Dowden was aware of the links to Conservative Party figures or donations when he launched the network, but the department did not respond to this question.

Insider contacted Wharton and IX Wireless but did not receive a comment by time of publication.

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New figures show the UK government is failing modern slavery victims, say campaigners

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel

  • The UK government is turning a blind eye to modern slavery, say campaigners.
  • New figures reveal the Home Office’s reluctance to accept reports of human trafficking.
  • Anti-modern slavery organisations condemn the Home Office’s “failure to support exploited people”.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Campaigners against modern slavery have condemned the British government for turning a blind eye to the practice after new statistics revealed its reluctance to accept genuine reports of human trafficking.

After Exploitation, an organisation which tracks modern slavery in the UK, obtained figures from the Home Office revealing that a large majority, some 81%, of modern slavery reports that were initially rejected by officials and challenged were subsequently overturned.

The challenges to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) were successful in a large majority of cases, with the Home Office later accepting that there were in fact reasonable grounds to believe somebody may have been a human slavery victim.

The Home Office’s reluctance to accept claims of human trafficking leaves victims vulnerable, say campaigners.

Under the current system, when reasonable grounds are found at an early stage of the process then potential victims can receive assistance and support, including temporary protection from deportation.

They then face a second stage, where the Home Office determines if there are conclusive grounds the potential victim is a confirmed survivor of trafficking.

The Home Office’s statistics, obtained following a Freedom of Information request, show 103 challenged rejections were later overturned in 2020 – 75% of all reconsiderations at this stage.

Commenting on the figures, the Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas Symonds, said: “These are shameful statistics. The Conservative Government promised to do more to help victims of human trafficking – some of the most vulnerable people on earth – yet this data shows their broken system is completely failing.

“It’s yet another example of Priti Patel promising to do something – and not following through. In fact, upcoming legislation is set to make the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking, which can include awful examples of sexual exploitation.”

The campaigners have stated their deep concern at the Government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, “despite the grave danger it poses to survivors of modern slavery.”

In a joint statement, After Exploitation, Anti Slavery International, Focus on Labour Exploitation, Freedom United, Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), Women for Refugee Women, and Helen Bamber Foundation said:

“We are deeply concerned that the Government intends to push forward with the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ next week, despite the grave danger it poses to survivors of modern slavery.

“The Government has claimed that increases in trafficking referrals illustrate an ‘abuse’ of the system. On the contrary, a culture of disbelief within the current system routinely denies vulnerable people the entitlements they need to rebuild their lives after exploitation.

“We are concerned that measures in the ‘New Plan for Immigration’, such as moves to create an even stricter first, Reasonable Grounds, stage in trafficking claims, are being enacted to bring down overall numbers of victims recognised by the UK State. This approach, focussing on cutting corners rather than fairness, will harm some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“We are also concerned that the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ will cause even more survivors to slip through the net before their case has even been heard. Last year, 2,178 suspected victims came into contact with authorities but were not referred for help. It is vital that authorities are given the tools to build trust with survivors, through funding for the Places of Safety scheme – first promised in 2017 – which would allow victims time to access advocacy at the point of referral.

“Instead, under the ‘New Plan for Immigration’, new powers will be granted to First Responders, including Immigration and Law Enforcement, to reject trafficking claims ‘outright’ even where victims would like their case to be heard.

“It is vital that Government commits to identifying and protecting more survivors, not fewer, in light of well-documented Home Office failure to support exploited people.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The use of these figures are completely misleading and wrong. Only 2% of reasonable grounds were reconsidered in 2020.

“The UK has led the world in protecting victims of modern slavery and we continue to identify and support those who have suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of criminals and traffickers.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system, ensuring those who genuinely need protection get the support they need. We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it.”

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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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A disgraced Conservative Lord whose peerage was forced through by Boris Johnson against official advice hands the party £500,000

conservative lord peter Cruddas
Conservative Party donor Peter Cruddas is sworn in to the House of Lords at a ceremony of introduction at the House of Lords, London. Picture date: Tuesday February 2, 2021

  • Disgraced Conservative Lord Peter Cruddas has donated more than £500,000 to Boris Johnson’s party after becoming a peer.
  • Cruddas resigned as party co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.
  • He was subsequently nominated for a peerage by Boris Johnson despite the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Conservative member of the House of Lords, whose peerage was forced through last year by Boris Johnson despite his role in a cash-for-access scandal, has handed the prime minister’s party half a million pounds.

Lord Peter Cruddas donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party’s central office on 5 February 2021, only three days after he was introduced into the House of Lords where he now sits as a Conservative peer, the latest Electoral Commission records show.

Cruddas was nominated to become a member of the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in December 2020, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission, an independent group that vets nominations.

The Appointments Commission was unable to support the nomination owing to concerns over allegations made following an investigation by undercover reporters from the Sunday Times after he offered them access to the then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.

Following the Sunday Times’s story, Cruddas stepped down as co-treasurer of the Conservative Party. He would go on to sue the Sunday Times for libel, initially winning £180,000 in damages. The Sunday Times then appealed the judgment, with judges in the court of appeal reducing the damages to £50,000, after they ruled that the paper’s central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other senior politicians were accurate.

The judges described Cruddas’s actions as “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

A letter from Boris Johnson to Lord Bew, the chair of the Appointments Commission, published by Downing Street in December along with the announcement of Cruddas’s peerage dismissed the Commission’s refusal to support the nomination.

He described the concerns as “historic” and assured Bew “that I see this case a clear and rare exception.” Johnson’s decision to overrule the Appointments Commission was the first time their advice had been overruled.

Johnson wrote: “The most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous. In order to avoid any ongoing concern, Mr Cruddas resigned from his post, and offered an apology for any impression of impropriety, and reflecting his particular concern for integrity in public life.

“An internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part.”

Cruddas, a British businessman and philanthropist, donated a further £10,000 to the local Conservative association of Nickie Aitken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, a constituency which has voted for the Conservatives since its creation in 1950. He has given more than £3 million to the Conservatives since 2009.

Cruddas also gave £10,000 to Conservative Voice, which describes itself as “an exciting and dynamic group set up to unite all generations of the centre-Right of the party […] a place for the grassroots to make themselves heard”.

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The Conservative Party received tens of thousands of pounds from non-existent companies

Boris Johnson Conservative Party donations
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

  • EXCLUSIVE: The Conservative Party accepted tens of thousands of pounds from companies that had been struck off, an investigation by Insider has found.
  • Tory politicians, including one currently serving government ministers, received the donations.
  • Political parties are obliged to carry out checks on any company offering them a donation.
  • Labour is calling for the Electoral Commission to launch an urgent investigation.
  • “This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Conservative Party pocketed nearly £30,000 from companies that were no longer trading at the time the donations were made, an analysis of Electoral Commission records and Companies House data by Insider has found.

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, UK political parties can only receive donations from actively trading companies and they are obliged to carry out permissibility checks on all donations from companies.

However, Insider’s investigation has found four donations from three companies that official records show were either dissolved or in the process of dissolution, with two of the donations received by currently serving government ministers.

Following Insider’s findings, the opposition Labour party called for an official investigation into the donations.

Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “This just doesn’t pass the smell test. The Conservatives need to explain why it seems they pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from companies that only existed on paper.

“The rules are clear: political parties must check that companies making donations are carrying on business in the UK. The Electoral Commission must launch an urgent investigation to find out what’s happened here – and any breaches of the law should be punished fully.”

Two donations received by a government minister

conservative party

The first donation identified by Insider was to Wendy Morton, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, from a company called Unionist Buildings.

Companies House records show that Unionist Buildings was struck off the register on 17 January 2017, following an application, filed on 21 October 2016, by its directors.

However, Electoral Commission records show Morton’s local association received £6,000 from Unionist Buildings on 2 June 2017, less than a week before the 2017 general election. The donation was accepted on 5 June 2017.

Nearly three years after Unionist Buildings was struck off the register, Morton declared a further £4,000 received by her local Conservative association from Unionist Buildings and registered on 9 January 2020. Her entry also contains the £6,000 donation from 2017.

At the time Morton received the £4,000 donation in January 2020, she was a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Unionist Buildings, who did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Morton did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication either.

Donations were received from dissolved companies

theresa may
Former Prime Minister Theresa May

Another donation was received from a company whose sole director was Conservative minister Charlotte Vere.

Vere is a Conservative life peer and a junior minister in the Department for Transport.

Companies House records for the firm Conservatives In, established to support the Remain vote in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, show it was struck off the register on 2 May 2017 following an application, filed on 3 February 2017, by Vere, the company’s sole director from June 2016 onwards.

On the application which Vere signed on 10 January 2017, she declared that “none of the circumstances described in section 1004 or 1005 of the Companies Act 2006 […] exists in relation to the company”.

Section 1004 of the Companies Act 2006 states that a company may not apply to be struck off if it has, “at any time in the previous three months […] traded or otherwise carried on business”.

But Electoral Commission records show that less than three months prior to this, Conservatives In gave £9,754.98 to the Conservative Party’s central office. The donation was made on 22 December 2016, the day after Vere was appointed a government whip in the House of Lords.

Vere’s entry on the register of ministers’ interests in November 2019 disclosed that her husband, Mike Chattey, is the head of fundraising at the Conservative Party. He has held the position since 2009.

Baroness Vere did not respond to a request for comment.

A company listed as a donor denies knowledge of donation

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Companies House records for the firm Stridewell Estates show it was also struck off the register in November 2016, following an application for striking off made in August 2016.

Over three years later, the Conservatives accepted a donation of £10,000 from Stridewell Estates.

A spokesperson for Stridewell Estates told Insider that the entry on the Electoral Commission’s website “must be a mistake.” She said “no payments were made from this company after it was dissolved. It is very possible that the company that donated has been recorded incorrectly.”

The spokesperson was unable to provide further details by the time of publication.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Stridewell Estates.

“This just doesn’t pass the smell test”

boris johnson brexit

Insider referred all of these donations to the Conservative Party. A spokesperson for the party said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them.”

The party did not seek to claim that any of the donations did not occur.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “Political parties can only accept donations over £500 from permissible sources. This includes companies who are registered and incorporated in the UK, and who carry on business at the time they make donations.

“We carry out our own permissibility checks on donors, though the legal responsibility lies with the parties to ensure that they only accept money from legal sources. Should there be evidence that the rules have been broken, we would consider it in line with our Enforcement Policy.”

Campaigners say there needs to be a stronger set of regulatory requirements for parties to ensure that they are receiving donations from permissible sources.

Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “It is high time that political parties be placed under a proper legal obligation to do thorough background checks on the origins of donations and the Electoral Commission be given robust powers to penalise them when they fail to do so.

“The public need to have confidence that electoral finance is squeaky clean and there aren’t any loopholes that would allow illegal or foreign donations which might skew our electoral process.”

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