Liberal Democrats' anti-Brexit stance brings £1m donation from one of UK's richest men

Party raises more money than Labour in a three-month period for the first time, thanks to a gift from an EU-supporting environmentalist

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The Liberal Democrats have reaped the rewards for the party’s staunch opposition to Brexit with a £1m gift from one of Britain’s richest men.

Greg Nasmyth is understood to have made his fortune from last year's £950m sale of his family's energy information business, called Argus Media.

His donation – reported today by the Electoral Commission – allowed the Lib Dems to raise more money than Labour in the last three months of last year, the figures show.

It is the first time the party, which suffered a near-wipeout at the 2015 general election, has topped Labour's donations tally for any quarter since records began in 2001, the commission said.

Baroness Brinton, the Liberal Democrat president, said: “Millions of people want a clear voice saying Britain must stay in the heart of Europe. That voice is the Liberal Democrats. Labour do not offer that any more, they are Theresa May's cheerleaders for a hard Brexit.”

The president pointed to a “famous by-election victory in Richmond Park” in December, rising membership and more than 30 recent local council gains. “It is clear the Liberal Democrat fightback is on, providing the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government,” she added.

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, ordered his MPs and peers to vote against Brexit after Theresa May refused to agree to a further referendum on her exit terms.

In stark contrast, Jeremy Corbyn split Labour after imposing a three-line whip on his MPs to back the Article 50 Bill, to begin the withdrawal process.

Mr Nasmyth, an environmentalist, was driven to give the £1m because of the Lib Dem stance on EU membership and also on green issues, the Financial Times said. It reported that he made the donation in October in the run-up to the Richmond Park by-election, where the Lib Dem candidate ousted the Brexit-backing millionaire Zac Goldsmith.

Last year, the Lib Dems received £2m from supermarket titan David Sainsbury, as part of his backing for the Remain campaign in the Brexit referendum.

Figures for the fourth quarter of 2016 – the first full quarter of Theresa May's premiership – showed the Conservatives taking the lion's share of donations, with a total of £3,610,983.

That compared with £1,972,904 given to the Liberal Democrats – more than half coming from Mr Nasmyth – and £1,970,055 received by the Labour Party.

The Greens took in £46,228, the Co-operative Party £39,750, Ukip £33,228, and the Women's Equality Party, £30,000.

Labour's largest donors were the unions Unite (£440,622), Usdaw (£368,693) and the GMB (£332,808), while the Conservatives' biggest gifts came from mining millionaire Michael Davis (£266,000) and property developer David Rowland (£233,000).

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour is a mass membership party, proud to be funded by members and working people. It is this broad funding base that makes us the party of ordinary working people, while our main rivals increasingly rely on a small pool of donors.”

In all, £7.7m was donated to 11 political parties, a rise of £1.2m over the third quarter of 2016 – but £1.5m down on the same period in the previous year.