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Brexit backers help PM candidate Johnson extend lead in funding battle

LONDON (Reuters) - Boris Johnson has increased his funding lead over Jeremy Hunt in the race to become the next British prime minister, backed by financiers and businessmen who funded the campaign to leave the European Union.

Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, visits the Thames Valley Police Training Centre in Reading, Britain, July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool

With Johnson and foreign minister Hunt stepping up their campaigns to replace Theresa May, both are seeking to raise money to pay for the cost of hiring venues, transport, staffing costs, leaflets and advertising as they vie for the support of Conservative Party members.

Johnson has registered 235,000 pounds ($295,583) in the last two weeks, taking the total amount he has received in the last year to 502,000 pounds, according to new figures released by parliament.

By comparison, Hunt registered no additional donations in the last two weeks.

The figures show the majority of money donated to Johnson’s campaign comes from hedge funds and financiers, which support Brexit, favor low taxes and the deregulation of the UK economy.

The donors are overwhelmingly white, wealthy, older men, according to an analysis by Reuters.

Johnson’s relations with more traditional businesses have been strained in the last year after he was quoted as using a strong expletive to condemn business, in response to corporate concerns about the impact a no-deal Brexit would have on the economy.

The throwaway phrase became a symbol of the strains between business leaders and the Conservative Party, which before the EU referendum was a bastion of pro-business positions.


An executive at one FTSE 100 company, whose CEO attended a recent business breakfast with Johnson, said the front-runner had sought to repair relations with business, but noted there was more risk associated with his position, due to his tougher stance over Brexit.

Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics, said a certain number of affluent figures were willing to back Johnson’s campaign now in the belief that he was the man to deliver their agenda - in this case Brexit.

However that did not necessarily mean they would hold huge sway if he gets into office. “Once he’s prime minister they’ve lost their toe-hold,” he said. “Boris Johnson is a politician who seems to be relatively comfortable with changing position on issues.”

The increase in donations comes after Johnson met hedge fund and private equity executives at a private members club two weeks ago to raise donations for his leadership campaign.

Rob Birley, the owner of 5 Hertford Street, a private members’ club in London’s wealthy Mayfair district, where Johnson met the donors, gave his campaign 20,000 pounds.

The largest overall donation to his campaign has come from the hedge fund manager Jon Wood, the founder of SRM Global, who has donated 75,000 pounds ($94,725), the register of lawmakers’ financial interests shows.

The most recent donations include 50,000 pounds from Peter Cruddas, one of the City of London’s most prominent Brexiteers, and 50,000 pounds from James Reuben, a financier.

Johan Christofferson, co-founder of U.S. hedge fund Christofferson Robb, has donated 36,000 pounds to the campaign, the register shows.

The register is updated every two weeks and the current entries run until July 1.

Johnson has so far raised the fourth-largest amount by any politician in Britain in recent years with three more weeks of the campaign left.

Only the former foreign minister David Miliband’s bid to lead the opposition Labour Party in 2010, Johnson’s bid to be mayor of London in 2008, and David Cameron’s campaign to lead the Conservative Party in 2005 raised more money.

Although the funds raised for Johnson’s campaign to be mayor came from financiers and businessmen he also received financial support from other backers such as those in the arts.

Overall, the sums raised in British politics are tiny compared to campaigns in U.S. politics.

In the United States, presidential contenders criss-cross the country for months, through first the party nominating process and then the campaign for the actual election.

Conservative lawmakers whittled down the prime ministerial candidates to two over a series of votes and now the Conservative Party’s approximately 160,000 paid-up members will choose between Johnson and Hunt, with the result due on July 23.

The new party leader automatically becomes prime minister.

Editing by Stephen Addison and Frances Kerry