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Fri 17 September 2021

Byline Times reveals the membership and ministerial backing of the powerful group of ‘hard Brexit’ Conservative MPs

A Labour MP has called for a Cabinet Office investigation into the European Research Group (ERG), as a Byline Times investigation reveals the group has received £230,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses since 2016 – including £70,000 last year. 

Once described as “the most influential [research group] in recent political history”, the ERG is part-funded by subscriptions from MPs’ office budgets – with each MP paying £2,000 a year out of the public purse for access to briefings and materials.

The ERG was seen as a driving force behind the arguments for a hard Brexit, as well as an organisational base for hard-right MPs through its WhatsApp group, meetings, and members’ media appearances.

It was described as “instrumental” in defeating then Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to find a compromise deal and subsequent pressure that forced her to resign. Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg boasted at the time that the ERG was “the opposition” to May and her Chequers agreement.  

According to filings to the expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the ERG has 35 members in 2020-21. Byline Times’ analysis also reveals that, since 2016, 64 Conservative MPs have been paying members of the group.

These 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)*.

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

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”.  

Byline Times did not receive a response from the three ministers.


Lack of Transparency

Tom Brake, former Liberal Democrat MP and director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, said that the ERG must be more transparent.

“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,” he told Byline Times. “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.

“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.”  

It is time for this party within a party – Tory members’ words, not mine – to open up its books, or stop taking money from the public to push its agenda

Ben Bradshaw MP

As a ‘pooled’ research resource for MPs, the group does not publish its briefings to the public. This research is supposed to be strictly non-party political.

However, in June 2018, openDemocracy reported that the IPSA wrote to the ERG seeking clarification about how it uses taxpayer money and other unknown “sources of funding”, following concerns about public money being misused to support the ERG’s campaign for a hard-line Brexit.  

The IPSA had been forced to publish a review of ERG materials in 2017, following a Freedom of Information battle. The documents revealed that the ERG gave Conservative hardliners “lines to take” and “possible questions” to ask ministers, as well as dismissing reports from organisations pushing for a softer Brexit, such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Members of the ERG, including its chair Mark Francois, have frequently railed against misuse of taxpayer funds. openDemocracy has previously revealed that the ERG claimed more than £300,000 between 2010 and 2017.

Neither Francois nor the group’s two deputy chairs responded to Byline Times‘ requests for comment. 

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A Party Within a Party

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw is 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 told Byline Times. “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.

“This revelation raises major questions for the three ministers who were sending taxpayers’ cash to the ERG last year. [It] appears to be a clear breach of the ministerial code.

“For an organisation whose members have frequently attacked what they see as wastes of taxpayer cash, the ERG seems very happy to claim large sums from the public while refusing to publish its research. It is time for this party within a party – Tory members’ words, not mine – to open up its books, or stop taking money from the public to push its agenda. Credit to Byline Times for shining a light on this issue.”

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.”

Full list MPs who have been members of the ERG since 2016

Bim Afolami
Lee Anderson
Mike B Wood
Steve Baker
Crispin Blunt
Suella Braverman
Andrew Bridgen
Paul Bristow
Bill Cash
Brendan Clarke-Smith
Robert Courts
Dehenna Davison
Sarah Dines
Jonathan Djanogly
Nadine Dorries
Richard Drax
James Duddridge
Iain Duncan Smith
Charlie Elphicke
Michael Fabricant
Mark Francois
David Gauke
Michael Gove
James Gray
Chris Grayling
Chris Green
Jonathan Gullis
Chris Heaton-Harris
Adam Holloway
Gerald Howarth
Tom Hunt
Stewart Jackson
Sajid Javid
Bernard Jenkin
Andrea Jenkyns
David Jones
Danny Kruger
Pauline Latham
Andrea Leadsom
Edward Leigh
Andrew Lewer
Peter Lilley
Marco Longhi
Tim Loughton
Craig Mackinlay
Kit Malthouse
Stephen McPartland
Robin Millar
Nigel Mills
Penny Mordaunt
Anne Morris
Sheryll Murray
David Nuttall
Priti Patel
Owen Paterson
Jacob Rees-Mogg
Laurence Robertson
Greg Smith
Desmond Swayne
Michael Tomlinson
Martin Vickers
David Warburton
John Whittingdale
Bill Wiggin

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