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It’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid Reform UK Party Limited’s leader Richard Tice, its unofficial doyen-at-large Nigel Farage, and Tice’s deputy Benyamin ‘Ben’ Habib.
On 4th January 2021, the Brexit party’s name change to Reform UK was approved by the Electoral Commission. For a party that in the 2023 UK local elections averaged 6% of the vote in the wards where it stood and won just six seats out of the 8,519 up for election, national media coverage of Reform was – and is – highly disproportionate.
Farage and Tice have their own shows on GB News, which is bankrolled by billionaire hedge-funder Paul Marshall and Dubai-based investment company Legatum, founded by New Zealand billionaire Christopher Chandler who made a fortune in Russian gas in the 1990s.
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GB News feels increasingly like a space to present uninterrupted Party-Political Broadcasts. That’s despite UK broadcast rules, supposedly enforced by Ofcom, which state that broadcasters – including GB News – must ensure ‘adequate and appropriate levels of due impartiality in its presentation of matters of political controversy and current public policy.’ In December 2023, GB News breached the Ofcom code for the fifth time, and 12 further Ofcom investigations are currently open into the channel.
Reform ‘Honorary President’ and, according to several reports, its controlling majority shareholder, Nigel Farage, received a great deal of media exposure during last year’s I’m a Celebrity and during the Coutts ‘debanking’ affair.
Reform Leader Richard Tice and co-Deputy Leader, Ben Habib are regularly invited onto national broadcast flagship news and politics shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky. All three tend to appear in the pages of the billionaire-owned UK national press every week, and in addition, on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), they tweet regularly to their combined two million followers.
But what – and who – is propelling the group?
Despite receiving more than £10 million pounds in donations over the past four years, Reform Treasurer and Secretary, Mehrtash A’Zami, stated at the end of 2022 that Reform had net liabilities of more than £1 million, “a significant percentage of which comes from Director’s loans”.
According to Companies House, there are currently just three active directors: Tice, Farage, and Reform CEO, ex-UKIP Chairman Paul Oakden, who has stated that he is worried about the supposed “globalist totalitarian” approach of both Labour and the Conservatives.
In 2008, Oakden became parliamentary agent for then Tory MP, Andrew Bridgen, but was fired after eight weeks, in part for allegedly ‘spending most of his time on a dating site’. A 2016 article in The Sun claims Bridgen had said about Oakden that ‘he shouldn’t be in politics’, branding him a ‘political suicide bomber’.
Since his dramatic exit as UKIP Chairman in February 2018 – unlike his Reform colleagues – Oakden has kept a very low profile.
Reform’s Major Donors
We know from the Electoral Commission donations database that to date, Jeremy Hosking has donated £2,578,000 to Reform UK, giving more than £6 million in total to right-wing parties, including the Conservatives, and since 2019, around £3.5 million to Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party.
Another major donor to Reform is ex-Bullingdon Club member George Farmer (£200,000 in 2019). Ex-hedge-funder Brextremist George Farmer, the former CEO of far-right platform Parler and former Chair of far-right group Turning Point UK – endorsed by Farage, Priti Patel, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
He’s married to controversial US political commentator Candace Owens, who caused controversy when in December 2018 at a TPUK launch event in London she made comments about Hitler, saying that it would have been “okay” if he had just wanted to “make Germany great”. In September 2023, Farmer joined the board of GB News.
By far the biggest single Reform donor is Chris Harborne, who according to Electoral Commission records has now given around £10 million to the Brexit/Reform party. Harborne made his fortune in aviation fuel and tech investing, and made multiple appearances in the Panama Papers.
Harborne is based in Thailand, holding Thai citizenship under the name Chakrit Sakunkrit. Like Farage, Tice, and Habib, Harborne was privately educated. He worked for five years as a management consultant at McKinsey and is now CEO of Sherriff Global Group which trades in private planes, and owns AML Global, a firm that sells aviation fuel.
In March 2023, it was reported that Harborne, who had also given £1 million to the office of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, had helped crypto “stablecoin” operator Tether circumvent a block on access to the US banking system.
In November 2021 crypto news site Protos said Harborne had received more than $70 million in Tether tokens in early 2019. These tokens were allegedly paid to an account in the name of an alternative Thai identity held by Harborne, “Chakrit Sakunkrit”. According to Protos, shortly after receiving the Tether tokens, Harborne made large donations to pro-Brexit political parties in the UK.
Harborne is also the largest single shareholder in UK defence technology Qinetiq, with a stake exceeding 10%. In November 2023, Qinetiq said that its income had been boosted by the Ukraine war, with rising sales of products ranging from battlefield robots to communications systems.
Other Reform donations include £100,000 from First Corporate – a firm owned by Terence Mordaunt, the 13th biggest donor to the pro-Brexit campaign, and a director of Tufton Street’s anti-Net Zero Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The group’s aims are to challenge what it calls “extremely damaging and harmful policies” envisaged by governments to mitigate anthropogenic global warming. Mordaunt is also a patron of Conservative Way Forward, a Thatcherite think tank relaunched in 2021 with Steve Baker at the helm.
Other notable donations to Reform includes £20,000 from Panther Securities PLC, a property investment company whose Chairman, former UKIP donor Andrew Perloff, has blamed rising inflation on climate policies, and defended those who question whether “global warming is happening”, along with £10,000 from Dunmoore Properties, the CEO and owner of which is Jeffrey Hobby. Tice – CEO of the property asset management group Quidnet Capital – and Habib – CEO of First Property Group, which operates in the UK, Poland, and Romania – both became multimillionaires through property.
Despite all the donations, on 31st December 2022, the Reform Party stated in its Companies House accounts document that it “had net liabilities of £1,106,050… these liabilities consist mainly of directors loans from Richard Tice and we have received suitable reassurances from him about the intention for these to help grow the party in the medium term…. There is a Directors loan to the party outstanding at 31 December 2022 for £1,083,000 (2021: £643,000) which is repayable upon request and only if the party cash position allows for repayments.”
Making Enemies and Influencing People
So how come a party polling only up to eleven per cent matters, when the UK’s First Past the Post electoral system is heavily loaded against minor parties, and will ensure Reform remains insignificant as a Westminster force? As UKIP demonstrated, minor parties can exert significant sway if they threaten to syphon votes from the major parties.
Arguably, the Government’s obsession with ‘small boats’ is a direct response to the relentless focus on the issue by Farage, with Reform enjoying significant media support from the billionaire-funded “news” media.
Reform’s emphasis on Sunak’s Parties’ perceived shortcomings – high taxation, a poor Brexit deal, overuse of lockdowns, economically damaging Net Zero, high immigration and lack of border controls, too much influence from the ECHR, and the ever present ‘threat’ from an ill-defined ‘wokeism’ – is music to the ears of the Tory right, relentlessly articulated by fellow GB News presenters and Tory MPs, Lee Anderson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as by Martin Daubney and many other presenters.
Daubney was involved in another recent breach of the Broadcasting Code when Ofcom ruled GB News breached impartiality rules during a programme presented by Daubney, who was standing in for Laurence Fox, in which he discussed small boats with Tice.
Since Brexit, the Tories have been pushed ever further right by fear of populists like Farage and Tice – which has dragged Labour and the ‘centre ground’ ever further rightward – which is precisely what Reform’s extremely wealthy donors want.
On 22nd November 2019, the then Brexit Party set out its highly predictable proposals for the 2019 UK general election, which despite rebranding, don’t appear to have changed much since. The party received just two percent of the vote in the election, with none of its 273 candidates winning a seat.
Farage stepped down as leader in March 2021, being replaced by party chairman Tice. Former North West England Brexit MEP David Bull (who since 2022 has his own show on Rupert Murdoch’s Talk TV) was appointed as deputy leader on 11 March 2021, joined soon after by co-Leader Ben Habib.
Then in 2021, Reform announced its intention to field a full slate of candidates in the London Assembly elections with Tice standing for election in the latter. However, the party didn’t nominate a candidate after making a pact with Reclaim Party leader and then GB News presenter, Laurence Fox.
Tice, like Farage before him, has repeatedly pledged to field Reform candidates in every constituency at the next general election.
But given Reform’s current financial position, this seems like another empty threat designed to drag the Tories even further right and to encourage the Tories to adopt policies which the Tory Right, Reform’s donors, GB News’s funders, and the billionaire owners of the Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Metro, Times and Spectator would all welcome.
Farage has also described his admiration for Italy’s Five Star Movement, which managed to grow from a fringe protest group into a significant force in Italian politics.
Following Brexit on 31st January 2020, Farage opportunistically reoriented Reform by opposing lockdowns and Net Zero, paralleling global right-wing populist anti-lockdown and anti-climate science sentiments.
Reform company documents reveal a unique structure for a UK political Party which gives almost total control to its leader, Tice. The structure has been criticised for not providing the party’s more than 115,000 paying registered supporters with any voting power to influence policy. Perhaps the party’s funders and shareholders have more say.
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