MANDRAKE: Spotting Sarah’s circle

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 March 2018 | UPDATED: 14:37 16 March 2018

Sarah Sands at a lunch with Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch and Liam Fox.

Sarah Sands at a lunch with Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch and Liam Fox.

Archant

In this week’s diary column, the editor of the Today programme is spotted at lunch with an unholy trinity.

My picture shows a lady named Sarah Sands supping with Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch and Liam Fox at a party held in south London not long after the EU referendum result.

Miss Sands happens to have gone on to become the editor of the Today programme and her closeness to such leading Brextremists – she’s also an old pal and champion of Boris Johnson – may well not come as such a big surprise given her show’s line on Brexit.

Mandrake asked the BBC how Miss Sands came to be seated beside this unholy trinity, and, interestingly, they felt no need to defend her impartiality as a journalist. “We’ve no comment to make,” they told me, curtly. All things considered, I’ll eat my hat if this edition of The New European – let alone this item – gets a mention on Today’s paper review.

Arron’s missing millions revealed

Arron Banks, the Bristol-based businessman who claims to have given £9 million in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes, may have been under-estimating his own generosity.

New accounts submitted by him to Companies House reveal for the first time that his firm Better for the Country provided no less than £13 million worth of ‘administrative services’ to Leave.eu. The whopping figure, disclosed in a note to the accounts, comprised £611,000 in 2017, plus £12.4 million in 2016. These services to Leave.eu have not so far been declared to the Electoral Commission – who have £6.4 million of donations reported for Leave.eu – all from businessman Peter Hargreaves. It is a moot point legally whether they should have been.

Better for the Country, set up in May 2015 and owned by Banks, is currently subject to an Electoral Commission investigation. That began in November and it is looking into whether £2.35 million in donations made by Banks’s company during the referendum campaign breached campaign funding rules. Meanwhile, Leave.eu – guaranteed by Banks, and set up in September 2015 – faces its own Electoral Commission investigation into its spending return, which began in April and is also still in progress. Its latest accounts make no mention of the services provided to it by Better for the Country. It owes Banks £6 million.

The doughty Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has said in the House that there are “real questions” to be answered about Banks’s worth.

Mum’s the word

It’s all change at Legatum, the controversial think-tank so beloved of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Three of its luminaries, Shanker Singham – photographed recently leaving a meeting with Gove – and Victoria Hewson and Catherine McBride are decamping to another ‘free market think tank’ called the Institute of Economic Affairs. So who funds the IEA? “We don’t place a list of our donors in the public domain,” its spokeswoman Stephanie Lis tells Mandrake. Are all the donors domestic? “We accept donations from individuals, foundations and companies, both domestic and foreign in order to pursue our charitable objectives.” Might Christopher Chandler, the financier who made a fortune in the “wild capitalism” days in Russia in the 1990s and was a big backer of Brexit, be among them – a straight yes or no? “As I said, we don’t comment on individual donors. We leave it entirely to their discretion.”

Different strokes

As the co-architect of the most shambolic election campaign in living memory, Nick Timothy still feels qualified to give his former boss Theresa May advice from his newfound pulpit at the Daily Telegraph.

Even more tragically, I am told he also believes himself to have a lot to offer in the political arena and hankers after a safe Tory seat. Mrs May is contemplating giving him a peerage just to get that idea out of his big head.

By contrast, Fiona Hill, Timothy’s former partner in crime at No 10, has had the good grace to disappear from public view. The woman who once managed to get her boss to squeeze herself into an improbable £995 pair of designer leather trousers is now looking to start a career in fashion.

I had lunch with Fiona in the run-up to the EU referendum, incidentally, when she’d told me that she and May were resolute Remainers.

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