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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Establishment targeted Leave campaign donors after attempting to put UKIP out of business

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Nigel Farage says there has been a concerted attempt by the Establishment to put UKIP out of business
Nigel Farage says there has been a concerted attempt by the Establishment to put UKIP out of business CREDIT: LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

The Telegraph’s recent exposure of the Establishment targeting Leave campaign donors by hitting them with a 20 per cent inheritance tax bill on their gift raises fundamental questions about the functioning of our democracy.

If, as seems to be the case, pro-EU corporates donated without penalty but anti-EU entrepreneurs like Arron Banks and Stuart Wheeler have been punished merely for supporting the Leave side, it is little wonder that many Remoaners now want a second referendum. 

This disgraceful stitch-up calls to mind another story about which I have so far kept quiet but which presents an even greater danger to our democracy.

For more than a decade there has been a concerted attempt by the Establishment to put UKIP out of business.

As a new party, it was difficult enough to promote our message of wanting to return Britain to being a self-governing, independent nation while constantly being accused of racism and xenophobia. Without money, however, the job would have been impossible.

Until 2004, UKIP was written off as an eccentric dad’s army with too much time on its hands. Indeed, I always knew it was a UKIP meeting by the number of RAF Bomber Command ties being worn by attendees in the front row. 

Nigel Farage And Arron Banks
Nigel Farage And Arron Banks CREDIT: STEVE FINN

We were sincere and active, but we did not pose a genuine threat to the status quo at that time. All of that changed when I recruited Robert Kilroy-Silk to be a candidate at the European elections in 2004.

Through his being a former Labour MP and well known television host, our vote soared and we beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. It was at this point that UKIP had its first real contact with the Electoral Commission, set up under Tony Blair to stop foreign and anonymous interference in British politics.

Our problem was that in 2004 £360,000 had been received from a Kent bookmaker called Alan Bown. He was neither foreign nor anonymous. In fact, he wore houndstooth jackets so often that anybody spotting him from 100 yards would have known he could only have been a bookie. 

In 2003 Mr Bown’s name was on the electoral roll. It was also on it in 2005. The problem was that his name was not on the roll in 2004.

Whether this was an oversight on his part or a clerical error by Thanet District Council, we will never know. In 2006 proceedings began which ensured that UKIP was dragged through the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, where we appeared in 2010.

Stuart Wheeler 
Stuart Wheeler  CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH

Fortunately, we won by a vote of 4-3, and so a potential fine of £360,000 did not have to be paid. Had the judgment gone against us, I have no doubt it would have been the end of UKIP. 

At the same point in time the pro-EU Liberal Democrats received £1.7 million from a man born in Scotland named Michael Brown who resided in Spain.

Not only was a false front company set up to make this donation, but the Lib Dems’ Mr Brown ended up with a serious conviction for fraud.

So, the Liberal Democrats had taken dirty money from a crooked donor based overseas who was not registered to vote in the UK. Despite this, and the original intention of the law, the Electoral Commission decided that the Lib Dems had acted in good faith. No charges were brought. 

The different approach to these cases shows that serious institutional bias was just the beginning. It is not only the donors to the Brexit campaign who have been hit with demands from HMRC. So, too, have all significant UKIP donors.

Even though UKIP won the European Elections of 2014 – and in so doing became the first non-Labour or Tory party to win a national election since 1906 – we are not classed as a proper political party because we do not have two MPs in the House of Commons.

Neither at any point have we been awarded a single peerage, though the Lib Dems have an astonishing and quite ludicrous 100 members in the Upper House. 

It is glaringly obvious that the British political structure is designed to keep the existing mainstream parties in place without the prospect of any new contenders upsetting these cosy arrangements. It is dominated by a two-party system – and, we now see, an attitude from HMRC – that means real democratic challenges are virtually impossible.

It cannot be said too many times: without the rise of UKIP there would never have been an EU referendum. That fair, open, democratic exercise simply wouldn’t have taken place.

Yet I am genuinely afraid that the Establishment, in the form of the Tories and Labour, plus the Electoral Commission and HMRC, is determined to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again. 

If we want to live in a proper democracy and not merely a two-party state, the rules concerning donations need to change immediately.

If, as some think possible, we are forced to have a second referendum I believe that the Establishment will have a massive advantage over the Leave side thanks to its aggressive approach to any individual who wishes to donate to the Leave campaign.

I am pleased that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove joined The Telegraph last week in expressing outrage at HMRC’s behaviour, but they must speak up more often and more loudly for an open democracy, too.

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