By Kam Sandhu & Ranjan Balakumaran
Steve Baker, a Conservative Brexit Minister this week accused of ‘conflict of interest’ after being gifted free use of a London pad by a millionaire Leave donor, previously accepted a donation from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), a secretive organisation that funnelled £435k to the DUP for the Brexit Campaign. Rules in Northern Ireland mean parties do not have to declare where donor money comes from, leaving an open route for dark money to enter British politics.
The CRC’s only publicly known connection is Scottish Conservative Richard Cook, the organisation has no website and no accounts. However, an investigation by Open Democracy Editor Adam Ramsay and journalist Peter Geoghagan, revealed Cook had set up another company with Prince Nawwaf Bin Abdul Aziz Al Sud – the Former Head of the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service and father of the current Saudi Ambassador to the UK. Cook denied to the Sunday Times that this company existed, despite being publicly listed on Companies House. The Observer reported that the CRC is one of several organisations that emerged as having played a key role in securing the Brexit vote.
Baker meanwhile has been instrumental in the Brexit campaign. Columnist for the Spectator Katy Balls described him as being ‘deployed by Vote Leave as a ‘flying monkey’ to turn up pressure on Cameron from the backbenches.’ Since 2015 Baker has lead “Conservatives for Britain’, a group of 50 MPs ‘plotting to lead Britain out of the EU.’ And his tactics commonly raise questions of legality. Just last week, it was revealed Baker and Suella Fernandes – an aide to the chancellor, had intervened on a private online messaging group which encouraged MPs to sign a letter demanding Britain not pay into the EU budget during transition and is able to sign trade deals immediately after Brexit. ‘As they are in government this has been seen as a breach of responsibility’, reported Balls, and Remain MPs have called for their dismissal. However, Balls adds, May’s failure to control ministers, allowing them to go off message, means her ‘position remains weak’ in the face of Leave’s tactics.
Baker is no stranger to lending his influence for money, and he now has a key role negotiating the terms of Brexit. A follow up report by Ramsay and Geoghagan in Open Democracy in July demonstrated the various corporate interests that Baker had been tied to in the recent past.
Formerly an engineer in the RAF, Baker became a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Aerospace, promoting arms in Parliament. In 2013 he was, for a short time, ‘non-executive director of Aerospace company Thermal Engineering Ltd’, Open Democracy reported:
“Thermal Engineering, which calls itself “a leading aerospace components manufacturer”, list their clients as including a range of arms companies, such as Rolls Royce, who supply arms to Saudi Arabia, the French Aerospace and security firm Safran, who also have close links to Saudi Arabia; the French firm ITP, who have links to Saudi Arabia; GKN Aerospace, who are certified to work in Saudi Arabia; MTU Aero Engines, who have worked in Saudi Arabia; Bombardier, who work in Saudi Arabia; Airbus who work in Saudi Arabia; GE aviation, who boast that “More than 1,100 GE jet engines serve the Saudi aviation industry for both commercial and military use”; and BAE Systems who supply arms to Saudi Arabia. British arms companies have been condemned for supplying arms to the Saudi regime in the middle of its brutal bombing campaign against Yemen.”
Baker also has financial connections to Robert Mercer, The Koch Brothers, hard right American campaigns and investment research organisations.
Disgraced Defence Minister Back At DSEI: Liam Fox
The subject of arms deals and trade with Saudi Arabia is back on the table as the world’s largest arms fair – Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) gets underway at the Excel Centre London. The fair opened after a week of protests by anti-arms trade campaigners protesting the selling of illegal weapons and the invitation of undemocratic and despotic government officials to do deals.
Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, attended the fair yesterday hailing the lucrative industry for the UK. Short memories will forget that Fox was previously deposed as Defence Minister in disgrace in 2011, after it was revealed his close friend and lobbyist Andrew Werrity travelled with Fox frequently, attending government defence meetings with no security clearance or pass, despite being backed by financial interests who could gain from Fox’s government decisions.
After only 5 years of being dismissed for this corruption, Fox is back and will be deciding trade deals for the UK. And his friends are not far. Joe Lo, spokesperson for Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT) revealed in an article for New Internationalist this month that Oliver Waghorn, Fox’s special adviser when he was Defence Minister, became BAE Systems’ chief lobbyist and ‘head of government relations’, three months after Fox took up his new role as Secretary of State for the department ‘in charge of promoting British arms exports and organising arms fairs.’ Last night, Channel 4 confronted Fox at the fair asking ‘How many civilian targets would have to be hit before you revoke a licence,’ which Fox purposefully ignored.
— Donatella Rovera (@DRovera) September 12, 2017
Bribes and Brexit Deals?
One of the trips on which Werrity was present was to Sri Lanka in 2011. Later that year Conservative MPs were banned from visiting the country over concerns of the ‘regime’s lobbying tactics’.
However, in a story by the Telegraph this week, it was revealed that Ian Paisley, one of the ten DUP MPs propping up the Conservative government, failed to declare 2 trips worth over £100k to Sri Lanka in 2013.
This week Paisley met with the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, and with Liam Fox, to discuss post-Brexit Trade deals. Paisley has been a vocal supporter of Sri Lanka in recent years, while arguing against an international investigation into historic war crimes, despite widespread reports of human rights abuses in the region, the Telegraph reported.
Ian Paisley campaigned strongly for Leave with the DUP. However, he recently endorsed Northern Irish citizens in applying for Irish passports for ‘convenience.’