Who’s Behind Boris Johnson’s Coup? The Murky Lobbyists Who’ve Taken Over the Government
Simon Roach builds on the work of DeSmog to reveal the main players and interests in the Boris Johnson regime – and most lead back to Vote Leave and Donald Trump
When Boris Johnson entered Downing Street by the backdoor, and without a general election win, he brought with him swathes of right-wing lobbyists who made their way by stealth from the fringes of Westminster to the heart of government.
We know this because we’ve been watching this slow erosion of democracy for years. In the time since the EU Referendum, investigative outfit DeSmog and others have sought to uncover the connections of those now in the Cabinet – the money and friendly relationships behind the big changes taking place in Britain.
A cursory glance at how their multitudinous ties overlap reveals a network of dark money, shady think tanks and overseas influence which now runs right through Whitehall. Cohesive strategies or motivations are hard to pin down, but the one binding factor between them is a foreign-influenced deregulatory agenda, frequently couched in the rhetoric of national freedom and liberty.
While the links between Brexit and big business are extensive, much of this money and influence seems to pour through Matthew Elliott, the former Vote Leave chief executive, who now finds himself holding the Government’s purse strings. The Elliott example illustrates how power often stretches far out of public view.
VOTE LEAVE IN THE CABINET
The most prominent of the incomers is Johnson’s new chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, the director of the Vote Leave campaign and the man behind its famous “take back control” mantra. His frequently referenced libertarian, ‘anarchic’ proclivities have gifted him a semi-mythic status as an enticing new Whitehall villain.
But, perhaps more instructive in terms of understanding the path of this new Government, are those arrivals via think tanks and pressure groups, the special interests of which lie in limiting the role of the same government they are now part of.
DeSmog has detailed how several members of Boris Johnson’s new Cabinet are now being advised by ex-staffers from what is known as the ‘Tufton Street Network‘ – a group of organisations linked through their use of the same building in Westminster, and ideologically aligned through their lobbying on behalf of business interests.
One notable member of the network is the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a low-tax, anti-regulation pressure group which has provided a training ground for many of those now in government.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance was founded in 2004 by Matthew Elliott, who was Cummings’ ex-boss at Vote Leave and has played a part in a slew of right-wing projects over the past decade. He is now Chancellor Sajid Javid’s advisor at the Treasury.
Other ex-colleagues of Elliott are also in government, including the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s former campaign manager Chloe Westley who is a digital advisor at Number 10, alongside many others from Vote Leave.
Through another of Elliott’s affiliates, Shanker Singham, there are links to the same deregulatory agenda which has swept through the US since Donald Trump came to power in 2016.
An investigation last year by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, revealed how Singham, via the prominent right-wing think thank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), was willing to offer US agribusiness lobbyists access to prominent British politicians whilst also authoring research on their behalf. The IEA, it is distinctly unshocking to find, is funded by BP and the tobacco industry.
Start chipping away at the glossy paint and you find that much of the funding for these supposedly independent reports on trade policy and campaigns for national sovereignty come from hedge funds, big business and billionaire industrialists such as the American Koch brothers. Many of these same people are also infamous funders of climate science denial.
Lobbying, industry funding and dark money in politics are nothing new, but the dramatically shifting terrain being offered by Brexit and a changing global order have opened up space for powerful foreign interests to make significant inroads in just a few years.
Fighting for greater sovereignty is all very well, but we should know whose sovereignty we are fighting for.
This article is published in partnership with DeSmog.