The far-right Britain First party created a shell company to hide the source of £200,000 worth of donations in 2016, VICE can reveal. Responding to the news, transparency campaigners, the Muslim Council of Britain and a Labour MP called for the loophole which allowed this to be closed.
Since 2011, Britain First has been a noisy and attention-grabbing presence on the far-right of British politics with a notoriety outstripping its real significance. The party was the biggest in the UK on social media before it was banned from Facebook in 2018, despite having a tiny IRL membership. Its supporters have carried out terror attacks and its leader and deputy leader have been jailed for hate crimes. In 2017 Britain First achieved global infamy after US President Donald Trump retweeted a fake-news video from the group. That year Britain First was deregistered as a political party – but they haven't gone away entirely. In May, Golding released a video thanking donors for helping Britain First move into a new headquarter office.
The party hit the news again this week when it was fined £44,000 for financial failings. The party has claimed to be funded by “generous contributions from the ordinary people of Britain” but an investigation by the Electoral Commission found it failed to declare £200,000 worth of donations in 2016.
This prompts a question that still hasn’t been answered: Who on earth gave this far-right gang £200,000?
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told VICE that all £200,000 worth of these donations were from a single source – a mysterious company called Albion Promotions (NI) Limited.
This company was set up by Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen in September 2015. Its registered address is that of a Belfast-based firm called “company registration agents” which sets up companies for a £160 fee.
So Albion Promotions gave Britain First £200,000. But where did that money come from in the first place?
An Electoral Commission spokesperson told VICE that Albion Promotions is a permissible donor to a political party and “we do not investigate or comment on how a company and permissible donor is funded”.
However, the Electoral Commission’s own guidance states that to be a permissible donor, a company must be “carrying out business in the UK”.
To judge whether a company meets this criteria, Electoral Commission guidance states that a political party should check the company’s website, trade directories, company accounts or contact the company’s directors.
Albion Promotions does not appear to have a website. It never filed any accounts and its only director is Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen. It was dissolved by the Companies House registrar in March 2017.
When VICE put this information to the Electoral Commission, they repeated that Albion Promotions was a permissible donor and claimed it was carrying out business in the UK. When asked how the watchdog assessed whether it was carrying out business in the UK, the spokesperson did not reply.
Through creating a shell company, Britain First have obscured the original source of the donations. Responding to these revelations, transparency campaigners said that this was a loophole that needed closing.
Steve Goodrich, research manager at Transparency International UK, told VICE: “It is patently clear that our electoral law is full of loopholes and is in urgent need of reform. It is all too easy for shell companies to make political donations with money of unknown provenance and without carrying out any real business activities to fund these contributions. Until this loophole is closed and the Electoral Commission has greater sanctions to deter abuse of the rules, questions will remain about dark money in our democracy.”
Sarah Clarke, a spokesperson for Unlock Democracy, which campaigns for democratic reform, said: “Elections are not meaningfully free or fair without openness and transparency around how political parties or campaigns are being funded. One hallmark of the UK’s pay-to-play political system is the system of loopholes those with money can exploit to conceal political donations, such as setting up a shell company.”
She added: “The Electoral Commission does not have the power or resources to stem the tidal wave of dark money that is distorting our democratic processes, and the political will does not seem to exist to do anything about it. We won’t have a political system that works for the people until it is designed by the people, which is why we are demanding a constitutional convention to deliberate on a new democratic settlement.”
Britain First has particularly targeted the Muslim community. A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: "The secretive funding of far-right groups in this country is extremely dangerous – we hope any loopholes are closed and that the Electoral Commission ensures it undertakes investigations into any potential breach of electoral law by far-right groups, especially on funding-related matters."
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle added: "These people are thugs and criminals. Their leaders have been sent to prison for a variety of reasons so it comes as no surprise that they are using shell companies to solicit donations.”
“It also comes as no surprise that those funding Britain First might not want to be associated with the organisation directly,” he said. “The whole thing stinks, we need to ensure the law is enforced properly, if the law is insufficient then it needs to be changed. Large sums of money should not be used to fund political parties without proper levels of transparency and accountability.”
Transparency campaigners have raised questions about several other companies financing political causes in the past.
Since completing his prison sentence for hate crimes, Britain First’s leader Paul Golding has tried to network with the far-right internationally. In July, allies of Vladimir Putin invited him to speak at a far-right gathering in the Russian parliament. Golding used his speech to defend Putin and his “legitimate government” from “globalists”.
While Golding spreads far-right conspiracy theories, the question of where his party got a huge chunk of money from remains unanswered.