Christopher Harborne: Boris Johnson’s £1m donor lobbied for crypto firm which met with Treasury

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The £1 million donation is thought to be the largest ever given to an individual MP

An investor who donated £1 million to Boris Johnson has links with a crypto lobbying firm that had a meeting with ministers in the final weeks of his premiership, NationalWorld can reveal.

Christopher Harborne, who gave the record-breaking donation to the former PM in November last year, has acted as a lobbyist at the EU parliament for the Digital Currencies Governance Group (DCGG), which represents a number of crypto-asset firms, including Tether, which operates the most widely-used stablecoin in the world.

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DCGG lobbied parliament about creating a “regulatory framework for stablecoins,” six months before it was announced that legislation would be brought forward to enable stablecoins to be used as payment in the UK.

This comes after NationalWorld revealed a series of meetings which took place last year between ministers and high-profile crypto companies which have been investigated and fined over anti-money laundering compliance failures in the US.

Christopher Harborne, Boris Johnson and the Digital Currencies Governance Group did not respond to NationalWorld’s requests for comment.

Photo: Kim Mogg/NationalWorld

Johnson’s £1m donor was crypto lobbyist

Harborne was registered as a lobbyist in the EU for the DCGG between September 2020 and April 2021. According to its website, DCGG is a trade association and consultancy which provides “state-of-the-art expert knowledge to inform legislators and regulators”. The firm says it “regularly engages with policymakers and regulators at the UK level”.

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DCGG is listed on the UK lobbying register as engaging in lobbying of the Westminster Parliament and UK government. Its members include high profile firms in the crypto sector, including Bitfinex, Tether and Rhino.FI (formerly DeversiFi).

In November 2021, DCGG gave a written submission to the Lords Economic Affairs committee’s inquiry into central bank digital currencies (CBDC), arguing in favour of “a sound regulatory framework for stablecoins”, but against the “creation of a UK-issued central bank digital currency”.

Crypto news website Protoshas previously reported that Harborne is a shareholder in Virgin Islands-based Digfinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether, and was issued more than $70million USDT (Tether’s USD-linked stablecoin) in early 2019. Rhino.FI was co-founded by Harborne’s son, Will.

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Harborne gave £500,000 to the Conservative Party two months before the government announced it wanted the UK to become a ‘global hub for crypto’ and that stablecoins would become a valid form of payment. He gave a further £500,000 a month after the announcement. In June 2022, Tether announced it would launch a stablecoin tied to the pound, with the firm’s chief technology officer stating that “the United Kingdom is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets”.

DCGG met with Chancellor Zahawi in August last year during a business engagement breakfast organised by FTI Consulting - a Conservative-linked consultant lobbyist.

Since then, the already-controversial crypto sector has been rocked by a number of scandals, most notably the collapse of one of the largest brands in the sector, FTX. Additionally, firms like Coinbase and Binance have been the subject of criminal probes, and the overall value of Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies has dropped considerably.

Despite this, Economic Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Griffith told the Treasury select committee that the government stands by its goal of becoming a ‘global hub for crypto’. He told MPs the government is “a long way down” the road toward “a wholesale digital currency provided by a third party, a private entity not a state, that is fiat-backed – i.e. a stablecoin that is properly backed by fiat”.

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He confirmed that two consultations - regulating crypto-assets and CBDCs - would be released “within weeks, not months”.

Harborne is also the largest individual shareholder of a major defence firm which won a large contract with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) this week, according to OpenDemocracy.

The investor has built up a stake of more than 10% in QinetiQ, which was originally set up within the MoD, through companies he controls.

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On Monday (16 January), QinetiQ announced that it had secured a ten-year IT contract with the MoD worth £80m.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “The UK is committed to creating a regulatory environment in which firms can innovate, while crucially maintaining financial stability and regulatory standards so that people and businesses can use new technologies both reliably and safely. Recent events in the crypto market reinforce the case for timely, clear and effective regulation.

“The government has already taken steps to bring certain crypto-asset activities into the scope of UK regulation – and is considering further proposals for a broader regulatory regime.”

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