Conservative donors abandon Theresa May's party to back new Brexit referendum campaign

  • Exclusive: Conservative Party funding is drying up as former donors divert their cash to campaigning for a second Brexit referendum.
  • The Right to Vote campaign, set up by pro-European Tory MPs, has received hundreds of thousands of pounds since setting up in May.
  • The funding drought has party chiefs dipping into their own pockets to pay for Tory election campaigns.
  • A former Tory donor speaks to Business Insider about why he has jumped ship.

LONDON – Pro-European Conservative donors are diverting their cash from Theresa May’s party in order to fund efforts to stop Brexit, as funding for the national party dries up, Business Insider can reveal.

The Right to Vote campaign for a second Brexit referendum, set up by Conservative MPs, has already raised hundreds of thousands of pounds from disgruntled Conservative donors since it was set up in January.

One donor to the campaign, City Pub Group chairman Clive Watson, which operates 44 sites across England and Wales, told Business Insider that he has donated £35,000 in a personal capacity, having previously donated £25,000 to the Conservative party through his business.

“I am still a Conservative party member, but I wouldn’t donate at the moment because I think their European stance is anti-business,” he told Business Insider.

“Brexit is the unknown. It could seriously dislocate supplies to the hospitality industry. Why would I donate to a party that is facilitating that situation?”

Brexit… could seriously dislocate supplies to the hospitality industry. Why would I donate to a party that is facilitating that situation?”

The Right to Vote group, which was founded by eight Conservative MPs, has received multiple other large donations from Tory-supporting business figures.

Mark Holdsworth, Right to Vote CEO, told Business Insider: “Right to Vote is funded solely by donations, and we have been heartened by the number of traditional Tory supporters amongst others coming to Right to Vote who care passionately about the subject as much as we do.”

Conservative donors look beyond Theresa May

Boris JohnsonGettyBoris Johnson

The Conservative party is facing an increasingly dire financial situation amid widespread fury towards Theresa May’s leadership and Downing Street’s stance on Brexit, which has alienated both Remain and Leave supporters who have traditionally funded the party.

It reportedly has just £1.5 million left in the bank, and party officials have warned that the party would struggle to fight a general election with such a low financial buffer.

The Conservatives’ chief executive, Mick Davis, has reportedly been forced to reach into his own pocket to cover some of the costs of the European elections and has told ministers that supporters have been deterred from donating due to infighting over Brexit.

One Conservative figure close to the Right to Vote campaign said it was part of a wider trend of wealthy Tory donors deserting the party in favour of explicitly or anti-Brexit or pro-Brexit vehicles, such as Boris Johnson’s nascent leadership campaign.

“There’s a lot of money sloshing around, but most of it isn’t going to the Conservatives,” said the person.

“There’s a lot of money sloshing around, but most of it isn’t going to the Conservatives”

“The Conservative party is struggling because people don’t think they’re delivering on any promises,” they said.

“Donors have identified other vehicles for their particular cause. If you’re a hedge fund manager who’s a keen Brexiteer, you will donate to Boris’s campaign. If you’re a business which backs a second referendum, you will donate to Right to Vote.”

People known to have donated to Johnson’s campaign include Lord Bamford, the chairman of vehicle manufacturer JCB, who has donated over £30,000 this year. Hedge-fund managers Jon Wood and Johan Christofferson have also donated £50,000 and £36,000 respectively to Johnson’s campaign.

Tories against Brexit

Justine GreeningGettyConservative MP Justine Greening

Right to Vote is spending money conducting extensive polling which indicates growing support for a second referendum in some constituencies, as well as running adverts in local media. It also has six members of staff working for the group.

A spokesperson for the Right to Vote declined to say how much of the money the campaign has spent so far. It was reported to have spent £40,000 at the end of its first month of operation.

Right to Vote was founded in January this year by then Conservative MPs Philip Lee, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Justine Greening, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston, and Guto Bebb, as well as two Conservative peers.

Three of those – Allen, Soubry, and Wollaston – have gone on to join the Independent Group of MPs, a breakaway party

Right to Vote CEO Mark Holdsworth said: “Right to Vote was formed in January this year by a group of centre, centre-right parliamentarians looking to set out a clear way forward for the country.

“Then as now, the public is sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths – and in some cases, blatant untruths – about Brexit, and we have campaigned for the last three months to seek a final say in the Brexit process.

“This has involved an on-going campaign across TV, radio, newspapers, online and social media, together with regional campaigning on the ground.

“Since we formed, our group is now cross-party, after Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry famously quit the Conservative party to join Change UK – but what unites them all is their, and our, desire to offer the public a final say on Brexit.”

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