The European Reseach Group (ERG) acts like a party-within-the-Conservative-Party: constraining options, dictating terms and disrupting informed debate. This section will provide you with a set of links to understand what the ERG is and how it is influencing the political process; and a set of practical steps you can take to limit the damage they do.
What is ERG?
The official designation of the ERG is a pooled service. This means it provides “research” to its members, all of whom are elected MPs paying an annual subscription.
MPs subscribe on an annual basis, and it would seem that ERG’s overall appeal is waning.
All pooled services are regulated (lightly) by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
IPSA’s procedures for regulating all pooled services and providing adequate oversight of ERG in particular is being investigated by citizens and independent journalists using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Here is IPSA’s response to an FOI request about ERG by journalists for Open Democracy.
What influence does ERG exercise?
The divisions in the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s inability to make a coherent plan for what Britain wants to achieve by withdrawing seem to be due to the ERG agenda. ERG explicitly supports a “hard” or “clean” Brexit, without regulatory harmonisation and with no regard to any duties Britain owes other countries under international treaties, most importantly the Good Friday Agreement which ended hostilities after decades of conflict on the island of Ireland.
In the Cabinet, Mssrs Davis, Gove and Johnson and Mrs Leadsom are all ERG members. Other ERG members include Brexit Minister Steve Baker, Suella Fernandes, David Gauke, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt and the most famous backbencher Mr Rees-Mogg.
The European Research Group members are relying on “research” produced by the Legatum Institute, Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Justice and other extreme organisations. (See here for ratings by the UK Campaign for Think Tank funding transparency.)
Consistently, when the works of the influential think tanks is scrutinised, their claims do not stand up. The weakness of their insights means they do not equip the Cabinet members and ministers to make decisions that take into account all the variables present in the withdrawal situation. Hence, we see a government that cannot answer pressing questions about border controls, regulatory harmonisation and so forth.
Daniel Hannan, an MEP who has long championed Euroskepticism, was the ERG’s first researcher.
In 2011, Hannan told the BBC:
the UK should become the Eurozone’s ‘offshore haven, the Hong Kong to their China’.
Where to learn more
Feb 2018 Article: May To Lead Britain To No Deal Nightmare
Dec 2017 Article: Jacob Rees-Mogg met Steve Bannon to discuss US-UK politics
Dec 2017 Article: Brexit Mess: The Just “Dessert” Of A Flawed System
Sept 2017 Interview: Channel 4 interview with then-Chair Sunella Fernandes on leaving the Single Market
Act now to show your MP that the ERG agenda is a poisoned chalice
Check if your MP is an ERG member
The European Research Group is only open to Conservative Members of Parliament. If your MP is a Labour MP, then ERG membership isn’t straightforward. You can however use the ERG coverage to determine if the behaviour of your Labour MP is consistent with the ERG line. If it is, tell them plainly and succinctly why Britain’s best interests are not represented in ERG policy. Any “Lexit” cannot be a hard or clean Brexit.
If your MP is a Conservative, the first place to check is the IPSA website.
Search by single MP names
If you know your MP’s surname, use this index page to locate the MP’s page.
The ERG payment (if there was one) will appear under the “Staffing” category. It may say “Pooled Services” rather than European Research Group. No other pooled services howerver charged £2000 per annum (£1950 to 2012).
The site provides data going back to 2010, but if your MP was elected in 2015 or 2017, only data for these more recent years will be shown.
Search all MPs, by year
Aggregated expenditure by year is provided here by IPSA, in a spreadsheet that you can download and search. Here you can search for “pooled services” and check the amount, and also search “European Research Group” and “ERG”.
If you don’t find any reference to ERG, this doesn’t mean that your MP is not or was not ever an ERG member. It simply means that the MP member did not make a claim.
If you find no evidene of an ERG membership expense claim, you can write to your MP and say:
I’m relieved to see that IPSA has no record of you having joined the European Research Group. I’m [relieved/reassured/etc] because I regard the ERG policy as [ill-informed/ideological/ignorant/etc] and I don’t want to see their policy governing what Britain’s withdrawal policy is. Please confirm to me that you are not a member or an ally of the ERG.
This is a matter of urgency to me, because should the government fall, I will not vote for any Parliamentary candidate who supports them. Allying with ERG would mean you are prepared to act against the nation’s interests, for which there is no mandate.
If (like me) you find that your MP has cancelled an ERG membership, you can write to your MP and say:
I’m [relieved/reassured/etc] to see from IPSA records that you are no longer subscribing to the European Research Group pooled services. I regard the ERG policy as [ill-informed/ideological/ignorant/etc] and I don’t want to see their policy governing what Britain’s withdrawal policy is. There is no mandate for a hard or clean Brexit and it will damage the nation.
Should the government fall, please know that I will not vote for any Parliamentary candidate who supports ERG, whether as a member or as an ally.
I’d be grateful if you could demonstrate your willingness to do what’s Best for Britain, so that I know you remain a credible candidate in the next General Election. [Insert action you are seeking.]
Actions I have requested in the past include:
- reconvene Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee;
- report to the Whips Office inflammatory adverts on Facebook targetting constituents of the so-called “mutineers”;
- thank Damian Collins for his work unearthing the nefarious role social media has played in the 2016 and 2017 voting;
- support for Philip Lee after he called for evidence-based decisions after #BrexitImpact reports were leaked to BuzzFeed
We need to praise the actions we want MPs to take. Not simply berate them.
Other ways to find ERG members
The European Research Group has published two letters to the Prime Minister. These letters include the individual signatories. You can scan the list and see if your MP has signed.
Michael Tomlinson MP has the November 2016 letter to Donald Tusk on his Parliamentary website here.
The Times published an article (paywall) on 8 September 2017 about one letter the group addressed to Chancellor Philip Hammond.
If your MP turns up on one of the letters, please write to say:
I’m [distressed, aggrieved, upset, etc ] to see you supporting policies of the European Research Group because I regard ERG as [ill-informed/ideological/ignorant/etc] and I don’t want to see their policy governing what Britain’s withdrawal policy is. There is no mandate for entertaining a damaging withdrawal.
Should the government fall, I assure you I will not vote for any Parliamentary candidate who supports the ERG or their course of action.
Screeds advocating Hard Brexit
Ready on Day One (about Channel Ports)
Global Champion: The case for unilateral free trade
The Road to Brexit (Blueprint for “Brexit means Brexit”)
See also Open Democracy’s Dark Money Investigations (article index).
When you write to your MP
- Include your constituency address
- Write concisely, one theme per letter
- About ERG, cc Dominic Grieve QC and post your letter/email to Dominic Grieve QC, Palaces of Westminster, London SW1A 0AA. The former attorney general wants evidence the electorate does not support withdrawal based on the ERG policy.