Consulting firm accused of meddling in UK general election

12 December 2019 7 min. read
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Self-styled boutique consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates has been accused of attempting to influence the UK’s upcoming general election. A non-profit group, of which the firm’s founder is a patron, is reported to have received funds from the UK government, while Cornerstone has since released material warning against the policies of the Labour Party.

In 2009, Ghanem Nuseibeh founded Cornerstone Global Associates in London’s affluent Mayfair district. The firm describes itself as a “boutique UK-based strategy and management consultancy” and lists project management, strategic advisory, risk advisory and due diligence as its key services. In practice, though, Cornerstone could be argued to be more akin to a PR lobbyist, than an ordinary management consultancy.

Citing “various governments around the world” as among its primary clients, the firm touts United Arab Emirates government agencies the Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Silicon Oasis as being among its roll-call of clients. At the same time, the last decade founder Nuseibeh regularly speak in condemnation of Qatar – which remains at loggerheads with the UAE – both personally, and through reports compiled by Cornerstone.

Consulting firm accused of meddling in UK general election

At the same time, Cornerstone openly states on its corporate website that it “various governments around the world” are its primary clients, and that “regardless of the size or scope of your needs, we work from an understanding that everything is connected to everything else.” This has fuelled mounting speculation surrounding Cornerstone and its founder, regarding their stance on UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, during Britain’s 2019 general election.

Home Office

Alongside Cornerstone, Nuseibeh is also tied to a number of non-profits centred on championing inter-faith relations. Earlier in the year, a report by Middle East Eye (MEE) stated that Faith Matters – a charity of which Nuseibeh is a patron – received funding from the UK government’s Home Office, through its counter-extremism programme.

Faith Matters did not disclose this – and while recipients are listed on the GOV.UK website, groups with expired funding are not included. Along with providing grants from the public purse, the Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) initiative also offers assistance in social media and communications training to help “amplify” the work of recipients. Those

MEE recently spoke to close Nuseibeh associate Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Faith Matters, on the subject of BSBT’s funding. Mughal and Nuseibeh founded and jointly operate another non-profit, Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, or MAAS. Speaking on behalf of Faith Matters, Mughal drew a clear link to MAAS, an organisation he stated, “We are proud to have developed.”

Recently, the MAAS project has been catapulted to prominence in the midst of the 2019 general election, amid a heated debate on anti-semitism and the Labour Party’s stance on Palestinian rights. Nuseibeh was among those to sign an open letter to the Guardian which urged the public not to vote for Labour on these grounds, while public social media postings from Nuseibeh, Faith Matters and MAAS reinforced this message – complete with provocative images of Nazi concentration camps.

Tweet from Ghanem NuseibehOne example saw Nuseibeh take to Twitter to claim, “Corbyn is not simply a far left Prime ministerial candidate: he is the head of a gang made up of Islamist & socialist extremists who want to abolish the monarchy & exterminate anyone who does not conform.”

Drawing attention to attacks on the Labour Party made or shared by Faith Matters that extend beyond religious criticism, MEE probed Mughal on the organisation’s use of public funds. Mughal, describing the report as a “conspiracy theory,” stated that the organisation had not publically disclosed the Home Office funding, due to a history of threats made against its staff, and denied that it had received any special media assistance from the Home Office. 

While personally and in terms of his non-profit work, Nuseibeh has been an outspoken critic of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, he strenuously maintains that Cornerstone’s analysis is entirely impartial. However, the firm only lists one non-founding employee on LinkedIn, so it would seem slightly naïve to suggest that his opinions do not carry any weight on the role his consultancy plays in terms of thought-leadership.

Indeed, with Nuseibeh having so publicly lambasted the UK’s party of opposition, Cornerstone has also turned its attention to British politics of late. Last month, for example, the Daily Mail covered a Cornerstone report claiming that a Corbyn-led government would supposedly heighten security threats, while costing 250,000 people their jobs, due to stalled trade with the Middle East.

Continued scrutiny

Amid all this, Nuseibeh, Faith Matters, MAAS and Cornerstone have each faced allegations of being “covertly funded” groups pushing “anti-Corbyn propaganda.” UK news site The Canary, for instance, claimed Faith Matters was a “Home Office-funded counter-extremism group promoting anti-Corbyn messages.” This would not be the first time that Nuseibeh, his organisations or consultancy, have been accused of running a wrecking campaign for a client.

According to a recent article published by the New York Times, since the breakdown in diplomatic relations between Qatar and the UAE, Nuseibeh and Cornerstone reportedly became engaged by the UAE as part of a PR battle aimed at re-allocating hosting rights to the FIFA World Cup, currently scheduled to be hosted in 2022, in Qatar. Initially this saw Cornerstone produce a report on the political risks associated with Qatar playing host – which many media outlets at the time cited – but the New York Times also suggested this went further.

The report stated that in 2015, Cornerstone also received a $1 million transfer from the UAE. This was allegedly to pursue an agreement with a former member of Qatar’s World Cup bid team, in order to disclose damaging information on the tactics it deployed. The intelligence Cornerstone gathered – it is not confirmed whether the $1 million was actually used for this – was eventually passed to a British Conservative MP.

While the case – which is examined in more detail on – does not overtly connect to the UK election, it does paint a picture of a firm apparently willing to take client work with an overtly political motive, and help sway a diplomatic crisis one way. Nuseibeh is actively involved in organisations in the UK which have received Home Office funding, while in a personal and professional capacity, he and Cornerstone have sided against a party challenging the incumbent government, as Britain goes to the polls. In this context, it seems the accusations levelled at Cornerstone and Nuseibeh are unlikely to go away any time soon.