Dark Money: Why were Leave funds channeled through Northern Ireland and the DUP?

A massive ad campaign funded by an unknown donor appeared days before the referendum


Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is under pressure to reveal where it got the funds for a £250,000 pro-Brexit Metro wraparound, just days before the referendum.

In a detailed investigation for Open Democracy, Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay explain that the UK’s normal rules regarding political donations do not apply in Northern Ireland, a loophole that allows UK campaigns to spend vast sums without declaring their donors.

In the case of the Leave campaign, this meant that upwards of a quarter of a million pounds was spent by the DUP. For context, this is three times what the party spent on the most recent Assembly elections and nearly five times what they spent in the 2015 general election.

In fact, as one Dublin commentator points out, ‘it’s safe to assume that this was the most expensive single piece of propaganda ever issued by an Irish political party.’

And we have no idea who paid for it.

Party leader Arlene Foster has confirmed that the DUP received a donation, but refuses to disclose the size of the donation or the identity of the donor.

This must be treated as suspicious. As Geoghegan and Ramsay argue, ‘until the funders behind the DUP campaign are fully disclosed, we should assume there is a good reason that someone doesn’t want us to know who they are.’

“Transparency is at the heart of democratic politics. Whatever the source of the mysterious DUP funds, voters have a right to know how one of the most significant political campaigns in recent British history was financed. Any dark money in a campaign pot poisons it all: a loophole like this allows a hiding place for any penny with an embarrassing provenance or private interest behind it.”

This is already a significant issue in Northern Ireland’s assembly elections, and it should get widespread attention across the UK.

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