It was a crisp but bright spring evening and the Palace of Westminster was casting a shadow over Abingdon Street Gardens. HOPE not hate (HNH) was watching the area, one person in the park, others doing laps of the roads that circle Millbank House, an imposing red brick building that is home to offices used by members of the House of Lords. We were there to confirm the existence of a secretive anti-Muslim organisation that had supposedly been operating from the heart of the parliamentary estate for over a decade.
That day we received the confirmation we required. The meeting room display screen in the reception hall of Millbank House read: “18:00: New Issues Group: Archbishops Room.” Soon after a colleague saw Lord Pearson of Rannoch leaving the building and climbing into a taxi on Great College Street. Not long after Baroness Cox also exited. It was the confirmation we had been hoping for, the secret group we had heard about was actually real.
A huge cache of documents was subsequently acquired by HNH that show that members of the House of Lords have been meeting with well-known far-right extremists and representatives of prominent Christian organisations, with the objective of opposing Islam through legislation but also on the streets of the UK.
The documents even suggest that known far-right figures have written and edited questions to be asked in the House of Lords. There is also evidence of funding from US evangelicals being funnelled into the UK to support the group and to help push legislation through the British Parliament. Perhaps most concerning, however, is that Baroness Cox broke the Lords Code of Conduct by failing to declare that she is a director of a company called Equal and Free which the documents suggest is closely linked this secretive organisation.
HNH was told that the importance of complete secrecy was impressed upon attendees, which explains why no details about its existence have ever come to light. The organisation operates under the name of the New Issues Group, or ‘NIG’ for short.
The NIG was founded in 2012, and has continued to meet in secret every few months since.
While many people have drifted in and out of the organisation, there are a few people at its core who have been active from the very beginning and remain involved to this day. Most important of these are Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox, two peers known for their strong stance against Islam. Also key is Alan Craig, a former leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA) and later a UKIP member, who went on to launch the far-right organisation Hearts of Oak in 2020. However, in addition, at least 35 people have attended meetings of the NIG over the past decade.
During the course of our investigation, we received dozens of internal NIG documents, emails and minutes of meetings. The earliest was dated November 2012 though the first formal NIG meeting appears to have been in the summer of 2013, held in Fielden House, Westminster. Subsequent meetings were later moved to the grand surroundings of the Archbishops Room at Millbank House, on the Parliamentary Estate.
The primary objective of the NIG is to raise awareness around what its core supporters perceive to be the dangers of Islam and Muslims within the UK. To do this they use a range of tactics, targeting law makers but also using the media and both campaign and street protest groups.
The group has formulated questions to be asked and run a series of events in the House of Lords, introduced private members bills, lobbied ministers and senior members of the clergy and provided support and guidance to anti-Muslim organisations. Most worrying, however, is that the documents we’ve received appear to show that the NIG has set up a series of charities and had a hand in the creation of a number of anti-Muslim and far-right organisations.
The defence offered by many of those involved in the NIG is that they are against Islam but are not “anti-Muslim”. However, the findings of this investigation show that the key individuals within the group sometimes make no distinction between Islam and Muslims or between radical Islamists and the wider Muslim community. Thus, the NIG may target issues that are ostensibly laudable, such as women’s rights in the Muslim community, but the other comments and histories of those involved (some of whom have freely associated with far-right extremists) reveals more worrying motivations.
As the NIG is a secret organisation, there is no non-profit company or charity registered in that name. However, throughout the documents we acquired there are numerous references to donations, travel expenses and various costs. The evidence suggests that it was likely funded in part via money donated to a company called Equal and Free Limited.
The minutes from an NIG meeting in September 2015 describes Equal and Free as “the company set up as a channel behind the Bill”, a reference to Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill. The not-for-profit company, originally called One Nation One Law Limited, was established in July 2012, around the same time as the NIG itself. Alan Craig and Baroness Cox both became directors in August of that year, and were subsequently joined in June 2014 by NIG regulars Tim Dieppe from Christian Concern and Sean Oliver-Dee.
Despite still being listed as an active director of the organisation, Equal and Free does not appear on Baroness Cox’s Register of Interests. This is a breach of the Lords ‘Rules of Conduct’ that state that members must ‘register in the Register of Lords’ Interests all relevant interests, in order to make clear what are the interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their parliamentary actions’. After HNH contacted Baroness Cox for a comment she subsequently added Equal and Free to her Register of Interests.
In the earliest document seen by HNH there is a section titled ‘FUND RAISING’ with an instruction to “Write to Lord Kalms and Lord Vinson with TQ [unknown name abbreviation] sending 2nd reading debate and asking for more funding – to cover salary for ?? £25,000 mentioned to cover travel expenses.” Later, at a NIG meeting in November 2013, Baroness Cox reported that “we have potential funding of $45,000 (US dollars) and 2 peers are very supportive: Lord Kalms and Lord Vinson.”
Sir Stanley Kalms is the former Chairman of the electrical retailer Currys, and a former treasurer and significant donor of the Conservative Party who was expelled from the party in 2009 after voting for UKIP. The 2018 accounts (the earliest available) of The Stanley Kalms Foundation, does show a £5,000 donation to the company Equal and Free. Lord Kalms did not respond to our request for a comment.
Lord Nigel Vinson is a former director of Barclays Bank who became a Conservative life peer in 1985. The 2017 accounts of the Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust (the earliest available) also show a £3,000 donation to Equal and Free. When contacted for comment Lord Vinson stated he was “Not aware of NIG” but is “supportive of the many good works that Bns .Cox does”. He subsequently sent a follow up email supporting Lord Pearson despite our request for comment making no mention of Pearson’s involvement.
The document suggests that Kalms and Vinson money may have been used to fund the NIG, though it remains unclear how much and whether they were aware of the link between Equal and Free and the NIG.
Equally intriguing is a reference to a $40,000 donation from a US-based group called Fieldstead & Company. At an NIG meeting in July 2014, Alan Craig “reported on the company which has been formed One Nation One Law; TD [Tim Dieppe] has opened a bank account; money has come in from the US mainly to pay for Muslim women coming to give evidence and Sam’s salary will be paid from it. $40,000 from Fieldstead & Company; and £8,000 has been promised from another source(?).” One Nation One Law was the original name of Equal and Free Ltd.
Fieldstead & Company, based in Irvine, California, is run by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson and has made philanthropic donations to a huge array of organisations, ranging from the National Gallery in London to universities and charities all over the world. In a 2005 Time Magazine list of the “most influential evangelicals in America”.
The NIG minutes clearly suggest that money was sent from the US into a company that was set up with the express purpose of pushing Baroness Cox’s private members Bill through Parliament. We contacted Fieldstead & Company but received no response so it remains unclear whether they were aware of the NIG.
Many of the key figures who have been active within the NIG over the past decade have been affiliated with the so-called ‘counter-jihad’ movement (CJM). The CJM is a disparate and varied mix of people and organisations who believe that Western civilisation is under attack from Islam.
Figures from this scene that have attended NIG meetings include Sam Solomon, a Christian convert who claims to be a former Muslim scholar and Islamic jurist. Solomon played an important role in the UK and European counter-jihad movement, and had links to both the far-right English Defence League (EDL) and Geert Wilders. NIG minutes show he attended at least five meetings in 2015 and 2016. Interestingly, when being introduced at public speaking engagements Solomon has been described as “a consultant to the British parliament for matters regarding Islam,” perhaps a reference to his association with the NIG.
Also attending NIG meetings during the same period was Toni Bugle, founder of Mothers against Radical Islam and Sharia (MARIAS), a short-lived anti-Muslim group with close links to the EDL.
One of the most high profile NIG attendees is the infamous far-right leader Anne Marie Waters, who has become one of the UK’s best known anti-Muslim activists. In 2014, Waters launched Sharia Watch UK before becoming central figure in PEGIDA UK, the British branch of the pan-European, anti-Muslim street movement first formed in Germany, which she led alongside Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). She later went on to unsuccessfully stand for the leadership of UKIP before forming her own far-right party, For Britain, in 2017. For Britain folded in 2022.
NIG was heavily involved in the development of Sharia Watch UK. A NIG meeting in July 2013, before the public launch of Sharia Watch UK, discussed how members of the NIG would meet “to take forward issues regarding twitter and the website.” Sharia Watch UK was subsequently launched on 24 April 2014 at an event organised by Baroness Cox and held in the House of Lords.
At a later NIG meeting, Waters asked “If anyone would like to write an article: please do”, and posts by fellow NIG attendees Sam Solomon and Alan Craig later appeared on the group’s website.
During this period Waters regularly collaborated with EDL founder Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), and while he does not appear in the documents, we have been told that Lennon met with numerous NIG figures around this period.
In October 2018, for example, Lennon joined Lord Pearson, then-UKIP leader Gerard Batten and the Canadian far-right ‘journalist’ Ezra Levant, for a three-course lunch in the palatial Barry Room, under the Lords chamber in the House of Lords.
Perhaps the most troubling document acquired by HOPE not hate is a 2015 “Memorandum” created by NIG regular Magnus Nielsen, titled “Combatting Islam and the ‘Stealth-Jihad’”. The minutes of a meeting in September that year noted that Nielsen’s “memorandum was sent to all NIG members via email on 17 September. The document outlines a proposal to launch a street protest organisation, which would distribute literature to the public on the implications of Islamic teaching”.
At the time of his involvement Nielsen was a well-known anti-Muslim extremist. He had had close links to the English Defence League (EDL) and Mothers Against Radical Islam and Sharia (MARIAS).
While running as a UKIP candidate in 2014, Nielsen was widely criticised for saying “Islam is organised crime under religious camouflage” and that “Islam was created by a man called Muhammad who was a gang leader of criminals”.
The memorandum showed that Nielsen believed that “there is a real danger that, unless there is a showdown with Islam in the next few years, that disgust and contempt will spill over into anger and violence which, in the nature of things, is just as likely to be directed towards the innocent as well as the guilty”.
While Nielsen’s planned street movement never got off the page and onto the ground, members of the NIG did go on to found a remarkably similar-sounding organisation just a few years later. Though our source left the NIG before 2020, meaning we are unable to say definitively whether the anti-Islam group had a hand in its creation, in February 2020 NIG stalwarts Alan Craig and Peter McIlvenna launched a far-right protest group called Hearts of Oak.
The public launch of the group was preceded by the incorporation of a number of companies. In October 2019, Alan Craig, Peter McIlvenna and Lord Pearson incorporated the Free Speech Movement Ltd. That same month they also created The Patriotic Alliance Ltd, then in November 2019 the Alternative Alliance Limited was registered with Companies House. Finally, in December that year they also registered Hearts of Oak Alliance LTD. Furthermore, McIlvenna is listed as a member of staff on Lord Pearson’s Register of Interests.
Hearts of Oak, which has striking similar objectives to the organisation proposed by Nielsen, launched with a protest on Parliament Square demanding the deportation of Muslim perpetrators of on-street grooming. Hearts of Oak described itself as a “populist, anti-establishment movement” that brought together a group including Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), various former UKIP figures and evangelical Christian activists. The group announced that it would campaign on immigration, political correctness and protecting children from the “LGBTQ agenda”. Disrupted soon after its launch by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group’s operations have moved online and it has since developed into an online platform.
McIlvenna now produces regular interviews for the group’s YouTube channel, covering an array of topics but with a focus on anti-Muslim content, opposing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and anti-LGBT+ content that is framed as opposition to the sexualisation of children.
Peter McIlvenna, who is the central figure at Hearts of Oak, continued to attend NIG meetings throughout this period.
While the primary aim of the NIG is to advance anti-Muslim politics, the central driving motivation for much of the group’s core members is the defence of Christianity and Christian identity in the UK.
Baroness Cox herself is a high-profile figure within the conservative wing of the Church of England.
The meeting minutes also show that regular NIG attendees include Dr Sean Oliver-Dee who, according to his profile on the University of Oxford website, where he is a Tutor in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, “was the Interreligious Advisor for the Church of England’s Diocese of Peterborough and was also worked for the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the European Union as the Researcher on Inter-Religious issues”.
His online bio states that he has co-authored parliamentary publications “concerning religious liberty and co-authored a strategic analysis report on religious futures for the British Ministry of Defence”. Oliver-Dee has attended NIG meetings from 2013 onwards and appears to still be involved.
Another regular NIG attendee is the American Christian evangelist Dr Jay Smith, who founded Pfander UK. The Pfander Centre for Apologetics launched in 2007 and produces critical and controversial online courses on Islam.
One of Smith’s students at the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics was Hatun Tash, founder of DCCI (Defend Christ Critique Islam) Ministries. She accompanied Smith to Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park and soon became an infamous regular, brandishing a cartoon image of of the Prophet Muhammad depicted as a crying baby, and drilling holes into a copy of the Qu’ran. In a video on the PfanderFilms YouTube channel, Smith takes credit for training Tash.
The co-founder of Pfander UK, Beth Grove, also attended NIG meetings from 2015 onwards.
The most important Christian group represented within the NIG is Christian Concern, a prominent evangelical organisations in the UK.
Christian Concern includes three “specialist ministries”. Together, these groups campaign around a series of issues including opposing Islam, abortion, adultery, premarital sex, pornography, homosexuality, polygamy and “other harmful sexual practices”.
HOPE not hate has been told that figures from Christian Concern are now fundamental to the running of the NIG. Tim Dieppe, who is now Head of Public Policy at Christian Concern, has been attending NIG meetings regularly since 2014 and is believed to be the current organiser of the meetings.
Dieppe has written scores of articles about Muslims and Islam for the Christian Concern website, including on topics such as “Islamic rape gangs”, the supposed rise of an “Islamic monoculture in the UK”, bemoaned the Islamic call to prayer as “a sign of the increasing influence of Islam” and opposing Sharia courts, Sharia finance and halal food.
Another figure associated with Christian Concern that has attended at least one NIG meeting is the barrister Paul Diamond, who has served as Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre for years. A recent Tortoise investigation claims that he received £8,000 a month for religious liberties advocacy. Diamond was involved in the counter-jihad scene and attended a number of high-profile counter-jihad gatherings. Minutes show that he attended at least one NIG meeting in 2016 and was discussed by the group at others.
Christian Concern and Tim Dieppe were contacted for comment but did not respond.
The real danger presented by the New Issues Group stems from the fact that it has sought to exert its influence within Parliament, raising serious questions about the misuse of the Parliamentary estate and a lack of transparency within the House of Lords.
The most obvious means by which it has sought to influence Parliament is through collectively writing questions that either Lord Pearson or Baroness Cox will then ask within the House of Lords. Shockingly, the minutes of a meeting in November 2013 state that the anti-Muslim extremist Anne Marie Waters “was asked if she would help draft a question for Caroline Cox to ask in the Lords”.
That same month, Waters resigned her role as co-spokesperson of the organisation One Law for All, prompting the group to release a statement reading: “What you don’t know is that her resignation followed more recent political disagreements on some key issues, including One Law for All’s refusal to collaborate with the members of racist and far-Right groups and our insistence on the need to distinguish between Muslims/immigrants and Islamists.”
Other examples of the NIG contributing to questions came in 2016, when Andrew Marsh of Christian Concern helped draft a question “seeking clarification on the governments [sic] definition of extremism”, and Baroness Cox’s Parliamentary researcher Sam Mason was asked “to draft parliamentary questions in view of ONS [Office for National Statistics] statistics” about the provisions for those communities “Where the Muslim population is expected to rise”.
Similarly, in March 2016, the minutes state that: “Following February’s NIG meeting, MP [Malcolm Pearson] tabled a number of Written Parliamentary Questions,” which were about Sharia financing, grooming in Rotherham and counter-extremism strategy. At the following meeting in May, it was noted that Pearson had “asked a series of parliamentary questions related to political Islam”.
In addition to asking questions in Parliament, the NIG has organised a series of meetings in the Lords designed to advance its goals. The NIG meeting minutes from October 2016 mention Cox coordinating “a series of meetings in the House of Lords on the subject of Sharia Law and “honour”- based abuse”.
In addition to asking questions and holding events, the NIG has thrown its weight behind Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill. Cox first introduced this Private Members Bill in 2011, and has failed to pass it through the Lords numerous times over the past decade.
Ostensibly, the legislation was designed to challenge discrimination against Muslim women within Sharia courts (technically, these are voluntary Sharia councils, as Sharia “law” has no legal weight in and of itself).
Minutes from an NIG meeting in March 2016 state that Cox was accompanied by NIG members Alan Craig and Sam Mason to “a very productive meeting” with then-Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, to discuss the Bill. Interestingly, the Ministry of Justice’s transparency returns note a meeting between Cox and Caroline Dinenage, then-Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, rather than with Gove.
However, the really worrying element to this story is that Cox was accompanied by the far-right activist Alan Craig, a founding member of the NIG. This is just one example where Baroness Cox and Lord Pearson opened doors for far-right activists to lobby powerful people.
Also at the meeting was Sam Mason, the CEO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, a charity founded by Baroness Cox. Similarly, in 2016, Cox took Mason with her to meet Adrian Hitchens from the Home Office Select Committee.
Michael Gove, Sam Mason and Alan Craig were all contacted for comment but we received no response.
The story of the NIG is deeply troubling. The fact that a secretive organisation designed to push anti-Muslim politics has been operating out of the Parliamentary Estate for over a decade is genuinely shocking.
HOPE not hate’s investigation has revealed that members of the House of Lords have been collaborating with known far-right and anti-Muslim extremists and opening doors to them in the corridors of power. It also reveals close collaboration between major Christian evangelical groups and the far right.
As a group, the NIG has operated in the shadows and secretly sought to push its agenda both within Parliament but also on the streets of the UK. The fact that it appears to have been funded by influential businessmen and peers, but also US money from the evangelical movement, is especially worrying.
The NIG still exists and met as recently as January this year.
This investigation asks serious questions about the lack of transparency within British politics and the House of Lords in particular, and is reminder that anti-Muslim prejudice can be found at the heart of the British establishment as well as in our own communities.
*All the people mentioned in this article were contacted for comment. Lord Pearson replied, stressing that his views were against Islam and not against Muslims more generally but made no mention of the NIG in his response. Baroness Cox also failed to address any of our questions about the NIG in her response but stated that “My only comment is that I would welcome publicity about my work with regard to the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill and related issues.”
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