European Research Group

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The European Research Group (ERG) is a research support group for the United Kingdom's Conservative[1] Members of Parliament who choose to subscribe, defined by its opposition to the UK's membership of the European Union. It is an IPSA-funded pooled service within the formal IPSA Scheme of MPs' Business Costs and Expenses and is one of two such publicly funded pooled services maintained for Conservative MPs. Serving an annual average of 21 MPs[2] including cabinet members, the group's focus is the single issue of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. In January 2018 Jacob Rees-Mogg was elected as the group's chairman, taking over from Suella Braverman, née Fernandes.

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

In July 1993 Sir Michael Spicer, the then MP for West Worcestershire, created the European Research Group in response to growing concern about Britain's continued integration into the European Community through the Maastricht Treaty.[3][4] The Eurosceptic group, which was chaired by Spicer, aimed to promote coordination of centre-right opposition across Europe and worked alongside other anti-EU groups such as UKIP and the Referendum Party.[5] Support for the group was boosted in 1995 after they published an anti-federalist pamphlet discussing Euroscepticism which included a foreword by Prime Minister John Major.[6]

Modern era[edit]

In 2015, having become a UKIP MP and having ceased to be a subscriber to ERG, Douglas Carswell, together with Mark Reckless and Stephen Crowther, established the UKIP Parliamentary Resource Unit Limited,[7] which was funded with a government grant of nearly £300,000. It was never listed as a 'pooled service' by IPSA. In January 2018 it was listed for voluntary striking off at Companies House by its then directors (Douglas Carswell and Alan Bown, a major UKIP donor[8]), and was formally dissolved on 17 April 2018.[9]

Following the resignation of Chris Heaton-Harris MP as ERG's chairman in 2016, new chair Steve Baker and deputy chair Michael Tomlinson announced a re-launch of the ERG alongside a call for the government to withdraw from the European Economic Area (EEA) and the European Union Customs Union following the result of the Brexit referendum.[10][11] Baker was subsequently promoted to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and was replaced as the group's chair in May 2017 by Suella Fernandes.[12][13] Eight months later in January 2018 Fernandes was also promoted to the Department for Exiting the European Union as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State leaving way for the current chair Jacob Rees-Mogg to be elected.[14]

ERG Senior Researcher Robert Broadhurst, Conservative Parliamentary Researcher of the Year 2010 in the Dods Parliamentary researcher awards,[15] was succeeded as a senior researcher by Christopher Howarth formerly of Open Europe. Howarth represented ERG at the parliamentary researchers' and academics' conference on Brexit in November 2016,[16] and is a regular contributor to ConservativeHome and City A.M..[17][18]

In the period leading up to the EU referendum 10 members of ERG acted in an official capacity for Vote Leave; Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, John Whittingdale, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, Bernard Jenkin, Steve Baker and Douglas Carswell. Members of the European Research Group (erg) met on September 11th in order to discuss trying to bring down the prime minister. [19]

Recent subscribers[edit]

Subscribers to the pooled service provided by the European Research Group can be identified on the IPSA records of Parliamentary expenses. As an unincorporated association the group does not publish membership details or annual accounts. Various media reports speculate that a wider membership exists.[20][21]

Chris Davies MP Brecon & Radnor

Letter to Prime Minister 16th February 2018[edit]

A letter from the European Research Group to the Prime Minister was sent on 16 February 2018 urging her to stick to the principles outlined in her Lancaster House speech (January 2017).[77] The 62 signatories, all Tory Party backbencher MPs, including a former party leader, cabinet ministers and deputy Speaker, were:

Your Right to Know Dossier 18th November 2018[edit]

The ERG published a document explaining "The Case against Chequers and the Draft Withdrawal Agreement in plain English."[78]

Structure[edit]

Chair[edit]

Controversies[edit]

Funding[edit]

The ERG has drawn criticism for its lack of transparency regarding its use of public funds to carry out research. After a report by openDemocracy found that more than a quarter of a million pounds had been claimed through MPs' official expenses since 2010, a call was made by Labour MPs for an inquiry to be carried out by the IPSA into the group's practices.[79][80] OpenDemocracy's September 2017 report commenced:

Taxpayers’ money is being used to fund an influential group of hard-line pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who are increasingly operating as a “party-within-a-party”.

In response to the request the IPSA found no breach of rules regarding expenses.[81] In addition to public funding for the service the group also receives donations. Robert Broadhurst, a Senior Researcher for the European Research Group records his employment with ERG, sponsored by David Nuttall MP, as having been 'funded by Members' subscriptions paid for from their parliamentary allowances; a donation from GR Software & Research Limited; and a donation from Lord Lamont of Lerwick.' GR Software & Research Limited has now been dissolved; its parent company, Pans (UK) Holdings Limited, is registered in the British Virgin Islands. Companies House lists Andrea Leadsom's husband, Benjamin Leadsom, as a former director of GR Software & Research Limited, along with her brother-in-law, Peter de Putron.

References[edit]

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