Theresa May backs aide Stephen Parkinson accused of ‘outing’ ex-partner

Theresa May’s political secretary Stephen Parkinson is under pressure over a row stemming from his time as part of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum.

Shahmir Sanni, a Vote Leave volunteer, has claimed the official Brexit campaign donated money to an independent youth operation in order to get around strict spending limits set by the Electoral Commission.

The whistleblower alleges £625,000 was given by Vote Leave to youth group BeLeave in the last two weeks of the referendum period, but that Vote Leave retained control over how the cash was spent – which would represent a breach of electoral rules.

Both Mr Parkinson and Vote Leave have strongly denied Mr Sanni’s claim they “cheated” during the EU referendum.

But, Mr Parkinson’s response to the allegations has put more pressure on his position in Downing Street, after he revealed how he dated Mr Sanni, who helped BeLeave, at the time of the referendum.

Mr Sanni has described Mr Parkinson’s revelation of their relationship as “a vendetta” and revealed he has had to come out to his family as a result.

He also expressed fears for his relatives’ safety, who are based in Pakistan where homosexuality is illegal.

In a statement released before Mr Sanni’s allegations were published by The Observer, Mr Parkinson claimed he gave Mr Sanni “advice and encouragement” in the context of their personal relationship.

He added: “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.”

Mr Parkinson has since added: “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.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Mrs May continues to have confidence in Mr Parkinson, who has worked as a political appointee in Downing Street since July 2016.

However, a friend of Mr Sanni has called for Mr Parkinson to resign.

Chris Wylie, the whistleblower who revealed the alleged breach of Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica, is said to have introduced Mr Sanni to Vote Leave.

“He was forced to come out to his mum in the middle of the night because No 10 Downing Street decided it was appropriate to out somebody,” Mr Wylie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“He [Mr Parkinson] should resign for outing somebody and endangering his family.”

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Mr Wylie also claims to have set up Canadian digital firm AggregateIQ (AIQ), which was used by Vote Leave during the EU referendum campaign.

Leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign and now sit in Mrs May’s Cabinet, have rejected The Observer’s claims.

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