A prominent Brexiteer who wants to see the Northern Ireland Assembly abolished has donated £30,000 to the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) political party.
The Sunday Independent has learned the money was paid to the party by Legatum Ltd, a company whose only director is former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib.
As required under legislation introduced in 2018, the donation has been registered with the Electoral Commission.
Mr Habib told the Sunday Independent the money was given to the TUV to help with the party’s costs during the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May.
He also revealed his company had recently given the “same amount” to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). However, no record of the DUP donation has yet been registered with the Electoral Commission and the party did not comment when contacted about it.
In recent months, Mr Habib has taken part, alongside DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and TUV leader Jim Allister, in rallies against the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was created as part of Brexit to ensure there was no hard border in Ireland.
However, unionists claim the protocol has created a border down the Irish Sea and resulted in Northern Ireland being treated differently than other parts of the United Kingdom.
Speaking at the rallies, Mr Habib urged people to vote for the anti-protocol parties in the Assembly election.
However, in an interview with the Sunday Independent, he said he would like to see the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales scrapped.
“Why do we need them? We should have one government for the United Kingdom. We are one country. We do not need provincial assemblies. All they do is provide a soapbox for people who want to break the country up and I am sick of it,” said Mr Habib.
In the May Assembly election, Sinn Fein retained their 27 seats and is now the largest party at Stormont.
The DUP won 25 seats, three less than the previous Assembly election in 2017, while Jim Allister was the only TUV representative to win a seat, although his party’s share of the overall vote increased by 5%.
The majority of the parties at Stormont, including Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party and the SDLP, are in favour of the protocol but unionist parties are opposed to it.
However, Stormont remains in stalemate because the DUP says it will not support the return of the devolved government until its concerns around the protocol are addressed.
New legislation being proposed by the British Government, which it claims will allow ministers to change parts of the protocol agreement, received initial approval from MPs at the House of Commons last week.
However, there is no clear indication as to when, or if, the proposed Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will become law or how long this process could take.
If the Assembly is not back up and running by the end of October, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is legally required to call another election.
Mr Habib has urged the DUP not to go back into Stormont until their concerns are addressed.
When asked how he could support the Northern Ireland Assembly remaining in limbo amid issues such as huge healthcare waiting lists and the cost-of-living crisis, he said all those issues could be dealt with at Westminster.
Mr Habib said he accepted the majority of parties at Stormont support the protocol.
“The democratic process in Northern Ireland produced an Assembly in which the major party is pro the protocol and I think Boris Johnston is culpable in this. I think Boris Johnston actually wants this. I think Boris Johnston couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland. I think he sees it, as so many other British politicians do, as a deficit economy from which the Conservative Party does not benefit at all because it has got no seats.
“The only thing he wants is Stormont up and running and then he can say well you know Stormont is majority Sinn Fein now. They are pro protocol and the next thing you know Michelle O’Neill will be asking for a border poll and then Boris Johnston will shrug his shoulders and say well we better give them a border poll.
“You could just see the ineptitude and the lack of care of the British government, letting this thing just slide out of control and that’s what Boris Johnston is doing and this Northern Ireland Protocol Bill doesn’t help bringing it back at all.”
Last week, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar accused the British Government of being “disrespectful” and “undemocratic” in proposing to unilaterally change parts of the protocol.
However, Mr Habib criticised the Irish Government for its stance on the protocol.
“I think the Irish government have behaved really badly. If you think that customs checks on the island of Ireland are intolerable under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement then you must always conclude, given the east-west dimension of that agreement, that customs checks down the Irish Sea would equally be intolerable.
"You cannot say that a border on the island of Ireland is intolerable but a border down the Irish Sea isn’t because the north-south dimension and the east-west dimension are of equal importance in the Good Friday Agreement and that is the fallacy of the Republic of Ireland government’s position.
“I think that people like Simon Coveney need to be more honest about it. I mean what really ought to happen is there should be no bloody checks either way between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and trucks should be allowed to go back and forth as much as they like as they are at the moment and they should just be required to declare what they are carrying and that’s it.”
Asked why he was providing financial support to unionist parties in Northern Ireland, the former Brexit MEP said he wanted to keep the United Kingdom intact.
“I think our government has done something which no government has ever done before which is to partition itself. This might sound emotive but we have allowed ourselves to be partitioned without a single shot fired. It has never happened in history before.
“This is the United Kingdom. 1.8 million people, our people, are on a different footing to the rest of the United Kingdom and that just isn’t right.”