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How an obscure intelligence-linked party fixed a second Brexit referendum and torpedoed Corbyn

The pro-EU Renew party emerged from out of nowhere at the height of “Corbynmania,” pushing for a second Brexit referendum that led to the Labour leader’s demise. The intelligence backgrounds of Renew’s founders were kept under wraps – until now.
 
by Kit Klarenberg 

Part 3 - From the murky military-intelligence world, a “New Macron” emerges

So who is Chris Coghlan, and from where did the seeming political novice emerge?

Coghlan became a minor public figure for running a failed “independent”campaign for parliament in the 2017 General Election, in the key Labour target constituency of Battersea. A year later, he founded Renew alongside James Clarke, James Torrance, and Sandra Khadhouri. Like Coghlan, Clarke and Torrance had each run their own ill-fated bids for parliament during that campaign, likewise in crucial Labour targets — Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and Kensington — on vehemently pro-Remain platforms.

According to Coghlan and his colleagues, Renew was a Third Way-style project designed to “challenge complacency at the heart of British politics” and represent “politically homeless” voters. Billing itself as a Remainer “anti-establishment” alternative to Labour and the Conservatives, Renew centered its platform on a push to stay in the EU by initiating another Brexit referendum.

From its outset, the quartet’s political strategy seemed misguided, if not downright bizarre. Just months before Renew’s founding, the aggressively pro-EU Liberal Democrats had failed to sway the electorate in spectacular fashion, with 82.4 percent of voters supporting the UK’s two main, Brexit-supporting parties, the highest total combined percentage for Labour and the Conservatives since 1970.

Then again, both Coghlan and Khadhouri were curious characters to form and lead an “anti-establishment” movement.

Branded by local media as a potential “New Macron” — a reference to the billionaire banker-turned-unpopular French President — Coghlan hailed from the heart of the British security and intelligence establishment. In fact, he quit a senior counter-terrorism post at the Foreign Office a mere week before launching his independent bid for parliament in May 2017.

Claiming to have resigned from Labour in response to Corbyn’s vow to remain party leader irrespective of the election result, the then-36 year old opened his campaign with an appeal to the political center, slamming Labour’s “left fantasy policies,” and pledging to fight Brexit “with everything” he had.

A Foreign Office official who spoke to The Grayzone on the condition of anonymity said it would have been virtually impossible for someone in such a sensitive position, with a history of conducting high-level counter-terror work, to carry out this breakneck career shift on a whim. British civil servants are precluded from engaging in commercial and partisan political activity, and once they leave their posts, they are required to undergo a cooling-off period before doing so as private citizens.

According to the official, Coghlan’s immediate entry into politics would have required permission from departmental superiors well in advance. In any event, the official considered his trajectory highly unusual, if not completely unprecedented.

No reference to counter-terror credentials is made on Coghlan’s LinkedIn profile. Instead, he designated himself as a Foreign Office “diplomat” between 2015 and 2017. As sociologist David Miller, a leading critic of Britain’s national security apparatus, explained to The Grayzone, this could be an indication of a more shadowy affiliation.

Countering terrorism is one of the three official ‘core areas of focus’ for MI6, but not the Foreign Office,” Miller commented. “Its officers work undercover, publicly presenting themselves as ‘diplomats’, usually giving no precise details of where they work in order to maintain cover. Given Coghlan’s wider background and the lack of clarity on what he was doing, it would be unsurprising if he was actually working for Britain’s foreign intelligence service during his time as ‘diplomat’.

Aside from his “diplomatic” work, Coghlan is also a long-time British Army reservist. He was mobilized to serve in Iraq under Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led military intervention against ISIS, as recently as April 2020.

Coghlan’s professional links reveal further connections to Britain’s covert intelligence networks. One of his primary LinkedIn endorsements was provided by James Blair, a member of the notorious British Army psychological warfare unit 77th Brigade. Another user who endorsed Coghlan’s “risk management” skills also happens to be a 77th Brigade reservist. 

The LinkedIn profile of Coghlan’s Renew co-founder, Sandra Khadhouri, is similarly mysterious. It indicates she began her political activity in Britain immediately after leaving a post as “strategic communications” advisor to NATO’s mission in Georgia. While there, she “advised and helped train” Georgian government officials in information warfare techniques, “especially on security-related issues and countering misinformation.”

Moreover, Khadhouri boasted that between October 2010 and November 2013, she “took part in large-scale military exercises with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps as a civilian adviser,” while participating in “several military training modules” at Britain’s elite Defence Academy and Permanent Joint Headquarters.

That training came on the heels of Khadhouri’s 11-year stint in the British government’s spook-infested Stabilisation Unit, which has participated in regime change operations in Syria, Libya and beyond. During this time, Khadhouri was reportedly “available to be deployed abroad, for short or long-term assignments.

Curiously, none of this background was ever mentioned in media reports exploring her role in the newly-established Renew Party. Instead, Khadhouri was invariably referred to as a “former UN worker.” Even more peculiarly, today she makes no mention of Renew, let alone her hand in founding the party or time serving as its leader, anywhere on her online resume. 

The entry on Khadhouri’s bio covering the period between October 2017 and March 2020 simply states she provided “strategic advice, campaigning and media support to a range of pro-EU political parties and campaign groups,” during that time, implying she was in fact an external public relations consultant during this period to a consortium of clients, of which the Renew was just one.

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