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The European Research Group (ERG) is a research support group for those of the United Kingdom's Conservative Members of Parliament who choose to subscribe.[1] Defined by its opposition to the UK's membership of the European Union, the ERG 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.

European Research Group
AbbreviationERG
FormationJuly 1993; 25 years ago (1993-07)
FounderMichael Spicer
Legal statusIPSA-funded pooled service
PurposeSupport research for UK Conservative MPs who choose to subscribe
Chair
Jacob Rees-Mogg
Deputy chair
Steve Baker
Parent organisation
Conservative Party

Contents

HistoryEdit

Early yearsEdit

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 it published an anti-federalist pamphlet discussing Euroscepticism which included a foreword by Prime Minister John Major.[6]

Modern eraEdit

Following the resignation of Chris Heaton-Harris MP as ERG's chairman in 2016, the 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.[7][8] 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 Braverman.[9][10] Eight months later in January 2018 Braverman 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.[11]

ERG senior researcher Robert Broadhurst, Conservative Parliamentary Researcher of the Year 2010 in the Dods Parliamentary researcher awards,[12] 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,[13] and is a regular contributor to ConservativeHome and City A.M..[14][15]

In the period leading up to the EU referendum 10 members of ERG acted in an official capacity for Vote Leave:

According to The Economist, members of the ERG met in Westminster on 11 September 2018 to discuss plans to bring down the prime minister.[16]

Peter Wilby writing in the New Statesman on 4 February 2018 was highly critical saying "The highly secretive body seems to devote most of its efforts to what, if it were left-wing, would be called plotting." In the same article, he quotes the Times as saying it is "the most aggressive and successful political cadre in Britain today".[17]

The Press Association reported on 15 February 2019 that "Critics, however, accuse it of acting as a “party within a party”, running its own whipping operation in support of its objective of a so-called “hard” Brexit, if necessary leaving without any deal with Brussels."[18]

The German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on 26 July 2018 that "Amid the daily UK political turmoil, one name sticks out. The European Research Group is a lobbying entity pushing for a no-nonsense, hard Brexit. Some say it is essentially running the show, not the British government." and "In February 2017, the group sent a letter to May setting out their hard-line Brexit demands: Britain should not only leave the EU but also the single market and customs union. That prompted Tory MP Nicky Morgan, who voted remain, to accuse the ERG of holding Theresa May to ransom. Her then colleague Anna Soubry was equally scathing and said that Jacob Rees-Mogg was "running our country. Theresa May is no longer in charge." [19]

The Constitution Unit in the Department of Political Science at University College London reported in Monitor 71 on 11 March 2019 that "The Conservatives have their own party-within-a-party, in the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group. After many false starts, it forced a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of the party in December, which she won by 200 votes to 117." [20]

StructureEdit

ChairEdit

Deputy ChairEdit

SubscribersEdit

Subscribers to the pooled service provided by the European Research Group can be identified on the IPSA records of Parliamentary expenses. ERG subscriptions are taxpayer funded through IPSA. As an unincorporated association the group does not publish membership details or annual accounts. Various media reports speculate that a wider membership exists and on 1 May 2019, following a ruling by the Information Commissioner's Office that the Department for Exiting the European Union must reveal the existence of an email to the group from Steve Baker, openDemocracy published a report on a wider membership. [22][23][24]

Past subscribersEdit

  • Daniel Kawczynski[79] Resigned 8 April 2019, "I can no longer be a member of a caucus which is preventing WA4 from passing."[80]

FundingEdit

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.[81] 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".[82]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Information relating to the European Research Group (ERG)".
  2. ^ "Assurance Review: Pooled services" (PDF). IPSA. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  3. ^ Spicer, Michael (28 January 2018). "Move over Ukip, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the ERG are now the real Brexit watchdogs". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  4. ^ Usherwood, Simon. "Proximate Factors in the Mobilisation of Anti-EU Groups in France and the UK: The European Union as First-Order Politics". University of Surrey. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  5. ^ Hannan, Daniel (2016). What Next: How to get the best from Brexit. Head of Zeus. p. 22.
  6. ^ Davies, Patricia Wynn (28 February 1995). "Euro-rebels may split in key debate". The Independent. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
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  20. ^ Unit, The Constitution (11 March 2019). "Monitor 71 — Brexit: the constitution under strain".
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  80. ^ @DKShrewsbury (8 April 2019). "Have decided to resign from ERG. Despite excellent Chairmanship by @Jacob_Rees_Mogg who has accommodated all views I can no longer be a member of caucas which is preventing WA4 from passing. Hardcore element of 'Unicorn' dreamers now actually endangering #Brexit" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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