- Sputnik International
Get the latest news from around the world, live coverage, off-beat stories, features and analysis.

No Transparency: The Shadowy Company Behind the UK's New 'Independent Group'

© AP Photo / Stefan RousseauLabour MP Chuka Umunna, center, speaks to the media during a press conference with a group of six other Labour MPs, in London, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, center, speaks to the media during a press conference with a group of six other Labour MPs, in London, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. - Sputnik International
The press conference convened by the septet to announce their departure was well-received by the media, despite the BBC broadcasting an attendant, unidentified journalist muttering "between this and Brexit we are actually f***ed", and the MP collective refusing to rule out admitting MPs accused of sexual harassment to their upstart grouping.

In a shock move, on 18 February seven UK Labour MPs resigned from the party and declared the creation of a new political collective — the 'Independent Group'.

READ MORE: Seven Labour MPs Resign from Party Over Brexit, Antisemitism Scandals

Minutes after their launch presser concluded, the Independent Group website — which leading 'splitter' Chuka Umunna had repeatedly urged voters to visit and register — crashed, remaining 'down' for some time. A mere two hours later, Angela Smith — one of the seven defectors — would refer to non-white individuals as having a "funny tinge".

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, center, speaks to the media during a press conference with a group of six other Labour MPs, in London, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. - Sputnik International
History Repeats Itself: Will Seven Splitters Go Same Way as the Gang of Four?
However, while these embarrassing incidents have been ridiculed by some news outlets, and discussion of the pros and cons of the Independent Group has widely abounded, few if any mainstream journalists have asked basic questions of, or ascertained rudimentary facts about, the initiative.

Late to the Party

For one, the Group has occasionally been referred to as a political party, but it isn't — not yet, at least. It would in fact arguably be more accurate to describe the effort as the political wing of 'Gemini A', a limited company launched by Gavin Shuker, one of the seven splitters, 16 January 2019, which according to the Group's official website 'supports' the effort.

Ironically, given the Independent Group cited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's resistance to a second Brexit referendum as a major motivating factor behind their departure, the company's registered office in Altrincham, Greater Manchester is situated above a Wetherspoons pub, a chain which famously backed leaving the EU.

Facebook - Sputnik International
Mysterious Group's Facebook Ads 'Most Blatant' Case of Brexit Dark Money Funding
In any event, on top of indicating the 'gang of seven' have evidently been planning their great escape for some time, the limited company structure is curious given such entities aren't bound by the same rules on donations applicable to political parties, and are highly opaque in respect of reporting. The only available information on Gemini A's financial structure indicates Shuker controls 75 percent or more of its shares — whether Independent Group has been provided with start-up capital, and if so how much, and by whom or what, isn't disclosed.

The Electoral Commission has confirmed it's in contact with the seven MPs, and seeks to "understand the structure of the Group" — and they will all still be subject to House of Commons rules, obliging them to report any donations they personally in excess of US$1,950 (£1,500).

While there's no suggestion Gemini A was set up specifically to shield the identities of potential donors — and the size of their donations — from public view, limited companies are frequently used and abused for this purpose in politics in the UK and elsewhere. In the US, a 2006 Department of Treasury report stated such structures are "inherently vulnerable to abuse", frequently facilitating the transfer of billions of dollars to political groups and candidates without any transparency about the source of the funds.

In a particularly notorious case of US limited company abuse, W Spann LLC was formed in March 2011 for the express purpose of anonymously donating US$1 million to 'Restore Our Future', a Super PAC supporting then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney — the funds were transferred the next month, and the company dissolved that July.

In addition to its speedy liquidation, suspicions about the company were raised when it was revealed the organization's address in Manhattan was shared with Bain Capital, of which Romney was once Chief Executive Office. Eventually, it was revealed the donation had been made by Ed Conard, a former associate of Romney at Bain.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала