A secretive organisation accused of collaborating with far-right activists has been operating out of the House of Lords for more than a decade, a cache of leaked documents suggests.
The organisation, called the New Issues Group (NIG), includes the former Ukip leader Malcolm Pearson and the Tory former deputy speaker of the House of Lords Baroness Cox.
The cache of documents, acquired by anti-fascist group Hope not Hate, even suggests that a figure who would become one of the UK’s most notorious anti-Muslim activists drafted questions to be asked in the House of Lords by group members.
Joe Mulhall, research director at Hope not Hate, described the existence of the secretive organisation as “pretty terrifying”. He added: “Our investigation found members of the House of Lords collaborating with far-right Islamophobes.”
Confirming the group’s existence, Cox denied that the NIG was anti-Muslim, saying it could “certainly not” be described in such a way.
Instead, she said, it was a “meeting of people who support the aims of my bill”, referring to a private member’s bill, first introduced in 2011, which aims to protect Muslim women in Britain from sharia law. “I have strong support from Muslim women,” she added.
Pearson added: “It would be wrong to describe it [the NIG] as anti-Muslim. Its main purpose has been and is to support Baroness Cox’s bill.”
One way the documents indicate that the group may have attempted to influence parliament was through writing questions to be asked in the Lords. Minutes of a November 2013 meeting indicate that Anne Marie Waters – who in 2016 set up the UK branch of the anti-Islam group Pegida with Tommy Robinson – “was asked if she would help draft a question for Caroline Cox to ask in the Lords”. Cox did not comment when asked about the apparent involvement of Waters.
In March 2016, the minutes state that: “Following February’s NIG meeting, MP [Malcolm Pearson] tabled a number of written parliamentary questions”, which covered sharia financing, grooming in Rotherham and counter-extremism strategy.
Pearson said he drafted all questions himself, dismissed any suggestions the NIG interfered, and said that the topics raised were “important”.
Another member of the NIG was Alan Craig, a former Ukip spokesperson who launched the far-right group Hearts of Oak in 2020. Its online “guests” include Tommy Robinson, founder of the anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL). Craig denied he was far-right, describing himself a “social conservative by conviction”.
Among the documents is a 2015 “memorandum” created by another NIG member, Magnus Nielsen – a known anti-Muslim activist with links to the EDL – which outlined a proposal to launch a street protest organisation.
Mulhall said NIG members were repeatedly reminded of the importance of complete secrecy, which explains why no details about its existence have emerged until now and why it has no digital footprint.
Founded in 2012, the group met as recently as January this year. Its existence emerged after Pearson sent an email to 235 people but – instead of bcc-ing them – accidentally sent it so that everyone could see the entire list.
Among an array of Conservative party MPs, aristocrats, bishops, businessmen and journalists were high-profile far-right figures including Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, Tommy Robinson and US anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller, who was banned from entering the UK in 2013.
Pearson’s email stated: “Islam is a vast subject. But if we try to discuss it in public, we are accused of Islamophobia. Our MPs are too frightened of the growing Muslim vote to discuss it. Several of my fellow peers jeer when I raise it in the Lords.”
When asked about the email, Pearson said it was about “Islamism, political Islam and radical Islam, which I think we should be allowed to discuss without being labelled Islamophobic”.