Here are the Tory MPs who are paying taxpayer cash to the European Research Group

Expenses data reveals that 64 Conservative MPs have used taxpayer cash to fund this 'hard right' group since Brexit.

It’s a group that’s funded by the taxpayer – to the tune of nearly a quarter of a million pounds since Brexit. Yet it has no online presence, no public list of backers, and uses its weight to push hard-right policies on Europe.

Now we know which Tory MPs use public funds to back the European Research Group.

Analysis of expenses data which I undertook for Byline Times reveals which Tory MPs have, in effect, used taxpayer cash to fund their membership fees to this controversial body.

MPs pay into their parties’ research units using funds from their office budgets. What is unique about the ERG is that it has been described as a ‘party within a party’, with many Tory MPs funding the Conservative research service and the ERG’s at the same time.

These services are meant to be strictly non-party political – simply providing information for the members. But the ERG was instrumental in pushing a harsh form of Brexit. That included helping to defeat Theresa May’s Chequers Agreement (hated by Brexiteers as ‘soft’), drafting a ‘manifesto‘ for a crash-out No Deal Brexit, and circulating ‘lines to take’ for ERG members to push their agenda. The group’s members were instrumental in bringing down Theresa May after her deal was voted down repeatedly in the Commons.

This week we learnt that 35 Tory MPs paid £2,000 each out of the public purse for access to briefings and materials from the ERG last year – including three MPs who are currently ministers. None responded to requests for comment.

Tories who have been members of the group since 2016 include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove (2017-18); Home Secretary Priti Patel (2018-19; Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid (2016-17); Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt (2016-17); Attorney General Suella Braverman (2016-17); and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse (2017-18).

We also reported how three current ministers – including Leader of the House of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg – were listed as paid-up members in 2020-21. Alongside Rees-Mogg were Media Minister John Whittingdale, and Junior Transport Minister Robert Courts. This is despite the Ministerial Code banning ministers from becoming “associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with Government policy”.

Unlock Democracy director Tom Brake told me: “This is an organisation which has actively promoted an alternative line within the Conservative party (providing briefings, suggested questions and other research materials) to that taken by the Conservative Government…It is hard to see how some of those activities could be anything other than party political.  This is not allowed under the IPSA’s rules.”

He added: “What is even stranger is the financial support apparently provided to the ERG, funded by the taxpayer, by a number of ministers. Given the ERG’s past activities it is highly likely ministers are helping to fund a faction that will have no qualms in the future about aggressively seeking to undermine the same ministers’ policies.”  

Who are the Current Members of the ERG? ERG MPs 2020-21

  1. Adam Holloway
  2. Andrea Jenkyns
  3. Andrew Bridgen
  4. Andrew Lewer
  5. Anne Morris
  6. Bernard Jenkin
  7. Bill Cash
  8. Brendan Clarke-Smith
  9. Chris Green
  10. Craig Mackinlay
  11. Crispin Blunt
  12. Danny Kruger
  13. David Jones
  14. Dehenna Davison
  15. Desmond Swayne
  16. Greg Smith
  17. Iain Duncan Smith
  18. Jacob Rees-Mogg
  19. John Whittingdale
  20. Jonathan Gullis
  21. Laurence Robertson
  22. Lee Anderson
  23. Marco Longhi
  24. Mark Francois
  25. Michael Fabricant
  26. Owen Paterson
  27. Paul Bristow
  28. Pauline Latham
  29. Richard Drax
  30. Robert Courts
  31. Robin Millar
  32. Sarah Dines
  33. Sheryll Murray
  34. Steve Baker
  35. Tom Hunt

Other Tory MPs who’ve been members since 2016:

  1. Bim Afolami
  2. Mike B Wood
  3. Suella Braverman
  4. Jonathan Djanogly
  5. Nadine Dorries
  6. James Duddridge
  7. Charlie Elphicke
  8. David Gauke
  9. Michael Gove
  10. James Gray
  11. Chris Grayling
  12. Chris Heaton-Harris
  13. Gerald Howarth
  14. Stewart Jackson
  15. Sajid Javid
  16. Andrea Leadsom
  17. Edward Leigh
  18. Peter Lilley
  19. Tim Loughton
  20. Kit Malthouse
  21. Stephen McPartland
  22. Nigel Mills
  23. Penny Mordaunt
  24. David Nuttall
  25. Priti Patel
  26. Michael Tomlinson
  27. Martin Vickers
  28. David Warburton
  29. Bill Wiggin

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw is now calling for a Cabinet Office investigation into the three serving ministers who paid ERG membership funds last year. “After years of refusing to disclose their membership – despite being publicly funded – we now know,” he said. “The ERG is no ordinary research service, it is a lobby that has brought down a Prime Minister, pushed for a disastrous hard Brexit, the effects of which this country is suffering right now, and skewed our parliamentary debate in favour of so-called ‘libertarian’ politics.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told Byline Times: “The ERG is a parliamentary research service recognised by the IPSA, which provides briefings to MPs on issues relating to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. As set out in the Government manifesto of 2019, the Government committed to leaving the European Union which we have now delivered. All ministers are bound by the principles of collective responsibility.”

As the ministers would not confirm if they were still members of the ERG, we do not know whether they are indeed abiding by collective responsibility. Kafka would be proud of this storyline.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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