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Downing Street accused of outing aide's ex-boyfriend and Brexit whistleblower as gay

It is believed to be the first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone.

2018-03-26

A whistleblower who claims Vote Leave broke campaign spending rules in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum has been outed as gay by a former partner and Downing Street aide.

Lawyers for Shahmir Sanni say a statement made on behalf of Theresa May's political secretary Stephen Parkinson is the "first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone".

Sanni hit the headlines this weekend after alleging that the official Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, illegally colluded with independent group BeLeave in order to bypass rules on campaign spending.

In the run-up to the referendum Vote Leave donated £625,000 to BeLeave founder Darren Grimes, with the cash used to pay a Canadian data firm.

Sanni volunteered for Vote Leave in early 2016, but was transferred to BeLeave by Parkinson, then a senior figure at Vote Leave. Sanni claims both he and Grimes reported to Parkinson, meaning BeLeave was not acting as a truly independent group. 

In an anticipation of Sanni going public with his allegations, Parkinson outed him in an official Downing Street communique, revealing that the pair had been in a relationship for 18 months before splitting up in September 2017.

"That is the capacity in which I gave Shahmir advice and encouragement and I can understand if the lines became blurred for him, but I am clear that I did not direct the activities of any separate campaign groups", Parkinson said in the statement outing his former partner.

In response, a lawyer for British-Pakistani-born Sanni said outing the political activist had potentially put people in danger.

"We believe this is the first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone," the statement read.

"My client is now having to come out to his mother and family tonight, and members of his family in Pakistan are being forced to take urgent protective measures to ensure their safety."

Sanni added in a personal statement: "It’s sad that Stephen feels he can’t tell the truth about cheating in the Referendum. I think he understands why I had to do the right thing and let people know what really happened.

"But I never imagined that he, with the help of Number 10, would choose to tell the world I am gay, in a last desperate attempt to scare me."

Sanni continued: "This is something I’ve never told most of my friends or family, here or in Pakistan, some of whom are having to take measures to ensure their safety. He knew the danger it would cause, and that’s why he did it.

"My coming out should have happened at a moment of my choosing – not his or the Government’s. Some things are more important than politics and I hope that one day he agrees.”

After the original statement was taken down from Vote Leave founder Dominic Cummings' blog, Parkinson released a second, "personal" statement in which he claimed outing Sanni was unavoidable.

"I cannot see how our relationship, which was ongoing at the time of the referendum and which is a material fact in the allegations being made, could have remained private once Shahmir decided to publicise his false claims in this way," he said.