The Labour Brexit campaign was funded almost entirely by Conservative donors, according to an analysis of election spending carried out by Red Roar.
Labour Leave also handed £18,000 directly to UKIP, according to submissions to the Electoral Commission
The Labour Leave campaign received donations worth £400,000 in the lead up to the referendum, including £15,000 from official Brexit campaign Vote Leave, £175,000 from UKIP donor Richard Smith, £150,000 from Tory donor Jeremy Hosking, and £30,000 each from Tory backers JCB and the Freedom Association.
John Mills, the millionaire businessman behind consumer goods retailer JML, founded Labour for a Referendum in 2013. Following David Cameron’s announcement of a referendum in 2015, Mills made his collaborator Labour Councillor and Brexit campaigner Brendan Chilton a director of the group and changed its name to Labour Leave to signal its new focus on securing a leave vote.
Companies House records show that from its founding up until the announcement of a referendum, Labour Leave had nothing in the bank and no assets to speak of, but accounts filed just months before the Brexit vote show that the group’s bank balance had shot up to nearly £58,000. By the end of the campaign it was all gone, with Labour Leave declaring spending of £423,000 leaving it with net assets of just £42.
While John Mills is a major donor to Labour whose long-term support for the party is beyond question, the fact the official Labour leave campaign was funded almost entirely by Tory donors is likely to prove controversial.
Vote Leave itself made a cash donation worth £15,000 to Labour Leave in February 2016. While this donation is dwarfed by others Vote Leave made to leave campaigners, such as the £625,000 donation it made to student Darren Grimes, it could raise questions over Vote Leave’s involvement in securing donations for Labour Leave from Conservative figures.
The most generous of those Conservative figures was Richard Smith, who gave £150,000 to Labour Leave directly and a further £25,000 through his firm Techtest. Smith once flew David Cameron to his home in Herefordshire for a meeting before becoming a key financial backer of UKIP, handing the party £250,000 as well as dishing out £285,000 to the UKIP-backed Grassroots Out campaign. He has also donated to Brexit Secretary David Davis and to Philippa Stroud who heads Brexit-aligned think tank the Legatum Institute. During the referendum, Smith was reported to be the owner of 55 Tufton Street which housed a number of leave campaign organisations.
Millionaire financier Jeremy Hosking was almost as generous, giving a total of £150,000 to Labour Leave by the end of the referendum. As well as handing the Conservatives nearly £700,000, Hosking gave Vote Leave over £1.8 million. At the 2017 General Election he launched his own campaign to support Conservative candidates hoping to win Labour-held seats in the north and Midlands, targeting 138 constituencies with donations of up to £5,000.
Two more Tory backers gave Labour Leave £30,000 apiece. JC Bamford Excavators is owned by the Bamford family who are reported to have given nearly £2.5 million to the Conservatives last year alone, as well as donations to Vote Leave, Grassroots Out and Brexit think tank the Bruges Group worth a total of £643,000. The Freedom Association is a Brexit pressure group with a stall at Tory conference that is headed by a self-declared Thatcherite.
Most bizarrely, Labour Leave gave UKIP £18,500. UKIP itself shunned the official Vote Leave campaign which John Mills partnered with, instead opting to back Grassroots Out with financial support from Tory Labour Leave donor Richard Smith as described above. Neither party to the donation has ever commented on it, leaving Mills and his associate Brendan Chilton with questions to answer over why their outwardly Labour campaign handed thousands of pounds to Nigel Farage’s UKIP.