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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Are taxpayers funding secretive hardline Brexit group?

A secretive European research group dedicated to taking the UK out of the European Union and which allegedly operates as a party political organisation has up to 80 MPs as members including at least six cabinet members according to Open Democracy UK.

They say that 'new data collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority covering the last year, shows that the six cabinet members, along with the chief of staff and special adviser to the Brexit secretary, David Davis have each claimed £2,000 in parliamentary expenses for “professional” and “pooled” services from the ERG. Five other subscriptions from former Tory cabinet ministers and whips, plus the current chair of the ERG, means this group alone have claimed more than £32,000 from the public purse.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, Penny Mordaunt, the newly-promoted defence secretary, David Gauk, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have all used official expenses claims to pay for “ERG subscriptions” over the last 12 months.

Stewart Jackson, who lost his Peterborough seat in June’s general election, and is now chief of staff to David Davis at the Department for Exiting the European Union, also used his official expenses to pay for ERG services during the last years.'

The secretive nature of this group is causing concern amongst the highest echelons of the civil service:

One senior Whitehall official, who asked not to be named because he was currently involved in preparations for the next phase of talks with the EU’s negotiators, told openDemocracy: “2018 will be a difficult and critical year and those from Brussels we have to engage with, have already voiced concern that our future position could be clearer. But there will be added suspicion that this secretive group – and if they won’t publish who their members are and what they do, then secret is the correct word – represents a hidden hurdle by Brussels that the UK government has to jump over. This will hinder, not help, the prospects of a deal.”

Other data collated by IPSA show that 58 MPs have recently used taxpayers’ money to fund the ERG’s activities. Among the leading Brexiteers who have paid for ERG subscriptions over the course of the last two parliaments include Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is still being touted as a future Tory leader should May be forced out of 10 Downing Street.

The group is often described as a party-within-a-party of hardline Brexiteers capable of holding the prime minister hostage or removing her from office if she deviates from their stated aim of severing all ties with the European Economic Area, the single market, the European Court and the Customs Union.

It is estimated by Open Democracy that over a quarter of a million pounds of public funds has been channelled to the ERG through MPs expenses, but its chair refuses to say how many government ministers are members.This makes it impossible to determine to what extent government poicy is being dictated by this group.
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