Major donors call on Rishi Sunak to reform political funding system

Major donors from across the political spectrum have called on Rishi Sunak to reform the system after accusations of a lack of transparency around the flow of cash into Westminster.

Alexander Temerko, a Ukraine-born businessman who has given more than £1 million to the Conservatives, said “corrections” were needed, while others called for an inquiry into the rules around political donations.

Chris Bryant, the chair of the Commons Standards Committee, called for a system that had “full, not cloudy or murky transparency”.

It comes after the prime minister warned MPs on Monday that they would have to “justify” all the money they accepted to their constituents and as Downing Street said politicians “should be in no doubt that the public will pay close attention”.

The reform calls came after it emerged that some businesses have donated significant amounts to individual MPs despite having no employees or operating from apparently empty offices, according to an investigation by Sky News and the Tortoise website.

The government of Qatar was the fourth-biggest donor, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs giving nearly £250,000 worth of benefits in kind, Sky reported.

Asked if it was right that “companies that don’t seem to exist” could donate to MPs, Mr Sunak said: “I think transparency is really important for the healthy functioning of democracy.”

He also warned it was important that MPs keep to strict rules on outside earnings, after it was revealed that Theresa May was one of the highest earners in parliament, alongside shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, despite Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s opposition to MPs having second jobs.

Asked about companies that appear on the register, No 10 said that every MP “should be in no doubt that the public will pay close attention to that and they will obviously need to justify that to their constituents”.

Mr Temerko, a Ukraine-born businessman who has donated more than £1 million to the Conservatives, said the system needed “corrections”.

Donations to political parties and individual politicians were “an essential part of the electoral process and the UK democratic institutions,” he told The Independent.

But he said the system had “loopholes”. He proposed an “all-party board of donors as a permanent, rotating expert group that could potentially propose some changes to the donation system and would also continuously monitor emerging conflicts and major public issues in individual cases – like something that is legal but perhaps not entirely ethical”.

Stephen Gosling, who has given £390,000 to the Lib Dems since 2019, called for an inquiry into the system but said it should be led by the public, not politicians.

“If it was led by politicians it would say ‘everybody could secretly give us millions and millions’,” he said. “Everybody has got a vested interest, apart from the public”.

He suggested that an inquiry could be in the form of a “citizen’s assembly”. He also called for a body, such as the Electoral Commission, to be charged with running searchable database on the money going into Westminster, similar to the one created by Sky and Tortoise.

His call for an inquiry was backed by Tom Brake from Unlock Democracy, who said: “Some companies, donating large amounts to different politicians … reveal little or nothing about where donations come from. This has to change.”

The ‘Westminster Accounts’ probe found that the third-biggest overall donor to individual MPs since the last election was a company called MPM Connect Ltd which is registered to an office in Hertfordshire with no website and, according to its accounts, no employees.

The company gave a total of £345,217 to three high-profile Labour MPs – shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (£184,317), shadow health secretary Wes Streeting (£60,900) and former mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis (£100,000), Sky reported.

Ms Cooper later clarified that the money came from a long-standing Labour donor, who also used to donate to the Conservative Party.

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