- Health Secretary has declared his support for Theresa May’s political secretary
- Stephen Parkinson was a key member in the Vote Leave campaign
- Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni has claimed Vote Leave broke election rules
- In his response, Mr Parkinson said he had been in a relationship with Mr Sanni
A senior Cabinet member yesterday backed the ‘integrity’ of a No 10 aide accused of outing a former lover as gay in a Brexit funding row.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt declared his support for Theresa May’s political secretary Stephen Parkinson, who was a key member in the Vote Leave campaign before the EU referendum.
Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who also worked on the campaign, claimed at the weekend that Vote Leave broke election rules by using another organisation to get around strict spending limits.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) declared his support for Theresa May’s political secretary Stephen Parkinson
As part of his response to the allegations, Mr Parkinson revealed that he had been in a relationship with Mr Sanni. Mr Sanni’s lawyers then claimed this was the first time he had been outed as gay.
But Mr Hunt defended Mr Parkinson yesterday, saying on ITV’s Peston on Sunday that he was ‘someone of the highest integrity – there are two sides to these stories’.
Boris Johnson, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, tweeted to say stories about the funding row in The Observer and on Channel 4 News based on Mr Sanni’s testimony were ‘utterly ludicrous’.
Tory MP Heidi Allen told Peston on Sunday: ‘The whole thing feels pretty filthy and when you mix personal relationships and work it can get messy, as it has done here.’
She added: ‘You need to separate the gossip and the discrediting from what actually happened.’
Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni (left) claimed Vote Leave broke election rules by using another organisation to get around strict spending limits. As part of his response to the allegations, Mr Parkinson (right) revealed that he had been in a relationship with Mr Sanni
The claims centre around Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, which is accused of bending the rules on election expenses.
It donated £625,000 to a smaller youth-focused group called BeLeave in the final days of the campaign. While this was legal, it would have been against the rules to tell BeLeave how to spend the money.
Mr Sanni claimed Vote Leave did exactly that – ordering the group to spend it on digital advertising with the Canadian firm AggregateIQ.
Vote Leave has denied the allegation, saying its donation was within the rules.
Mr Sanni claimed through his lawyers that he was ‘outed’ by Mr Parkinson in the run-up to the Channel 4 disclosure.
But the No 10 adviser said: ‘I cannot see how our relationship, which was ongoing at the time of the referendum and which is a material fact in the allegations, could have remained private once Shahmir decided to publicise his false claims.’