The Tory Party chairman and close friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, stands accused of undermining his party’s commitment to neutrality in the Brexit referendum by ‘directing’ Conservative donors to fund the pro-European Union campaign.
Steve Baker MP, chairman of Conservatives for Britain, told The Daily Telegraph that the Tory Party chairman admitted he has been helping well-heeled party donors fund the pro-EU side of the upcoming referendum.
After highlighting how others tied to the party are helping Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) — such as the digital campaigning consultants Tom Edmonds and Craig Elder — Mr. Baker wrote:
Even more troublingly, Lord Feldman, our Chairman, has confirmed to me that he has directed donors to give money to the pro- EU BSE campaign in a personal capacity and in his spare time.
He also tells me that he will point people in the direction of the Vote Leave campaign, but they are yet to receive a referral from our Party Chairman.
Lord Feldman is a member of the political cabinet. His fundraising for BSE undermines the Government’s policy of seeking real reform before deciding how to vote. Now he has admitted this new part time role, shouldn’t the Prime Minster allow other cabinet members to help Vote Leave in their spare time?
The allegation comes at a time when the Prime Minister is being pressured to allow his government ministers to campaign to leave the EU without having to resign, similar to the stance Harold Wilson’s government took on the same issue in 1975.
On the one hand, six or more Cabinet ministers are reportedly privately demanding that ministers are offered a free vote and at least three are said to be pondering imminent resignations in order to be able to campaign openly to leave the EU.
On the other hand, Lord Heseltine has warned the Prime Minister he will become an international “laughing stock” if he does give ministers a free vote. He even told the BBC that doing so would undermine Mr. Cameron’s authority, sending the Conservative Party into civil war — something of which Lord Heseltine has a good deal of personal experience.
The Conservative Party has opted for official neutrality in the referendum campaign because opinion polls consistently show a majority of party members back Brexit. In those circumstances it is thought that using the official party machine to campaign for EU membership would be too divisive, but rather than follow majority opinion in the party the leadership opted for neutrality.
Mr. Baker’s accusations about the Tory Party Chairman could not come at a more difficult time for him, as he faces continued pressure to resign amid claims he knew about bullying allegations against disgraced former aide Mark Clarke more than a year ago but turned a blind eye.