Analysis

Arron Banks probe latest doubt on referendum legitimacy

by Luke Lythgoe | 01.11.2017

The Electoral Commission is investigating whether former Ukip donor Arron Banks broke rules on donations to campaigners during the referendum. This is just the latest in a string of cases involving the financing of the Leave campaign, a number of which are ongoing.

The watchdog is looking into £6 million of loans from Banks to Leave.EU, the UKIP linked pro-Brexit campaign. It is also investigating £2.4 million in donations from Better for the Country Ltd (BFTC), a company of which Banks is a registered director, to other pro-Brexit groups including Grassroots Out and UKIP. It seeks to find out whether Banks and BFTC were the “true source” of the money or whether they were “acting as an agent”, and how much recipients knew about the origins of the funding. The aim is to root out any “impermissible donations” or other related offences.

Banks’ response to the latest investigation was that “a judge-led inquiry reporting to Parliament that investigates the main campaign groups… would be the best way to clear this nonsense up once and for all”.

This isn’t the first time the Leave campaign’s financing has been called into question. Lawyers are currently challenging the Electoral Commission to reopen its investigation into £625,000 paid directly from Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign which was not connected to Banks, to digital consultancy firm AggregateIQ. This was declared by Darren Grimes, owner of a small pro-Brexit social media campaign.

Vote Leave made several “donations” – often into the hundreds of thousands of pounds – to smaller, pro-Brexit campaigners with a shared mission, without registering these as “referendum expenses”. Lawyers see this as an attempt to work around the referendum spending cap, and argue Vote Leave broke the rules.

Then there’s the role of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, owned by US hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer. The company provided expert advice to Leave.EU on how to target swing voters using Facebook. This service was provided for free, on account of Mercer’s longstanding friendship with Nigel Farage. This was not declared to the Electoral Commission at the time. An Electoral Commission investigation is ongoing.

Just this week the Guardian published further allegations that individuals being paid by Breitbart, a right-wing American news organisation, were working as senior unpaid Ukip volunteers during the referendum. It raises the question of whether this constitutes an indirect donation by a foreign donor.

Whatever the result of any investigations, one thing is becoming clear. The Brexit vote was bought by a handful of rich men. Five men in particular – Banks, Peter Hargreaves, James Hosking, Robert Edmiston and Crispin Odey – channelled £14.9 million to different pro-Brexit groups.

The questions are mounting over the legitimacy of the referendum vote.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “Arron Banks probe latest doubt on referendum legitimacy”

  • Wouldn’t say it’s “becoming clear” as it’s been fairly well known all along. It’s more that it’s getting documented to the stage that someone might end up in the dock.

  • Whilst nothing has yet been proven as to whether regulations were broken, of one thing we can be sure. A substantial proportion of “The Elite” were backing the Brexit case.

  • Why would a Brexit supporter hope to be taken seriously in claiming that a call for scrutiny of funders and funding was because of sour grapes? Oh, I get it, he doesn’t like the reference to elites. Ironic when you think of the way the ‘common folk’ suffer from a high pound, expensive food a threat to workers’ rights, threats to NHS and a constant deafening silence about the campaign lies un explained. But let’s take it as a campaign of hope and whistle for all we are worth. Dyson wants it easier to hire and fire people, common people, surely? Farmers would love to hire good, effective workers. But, guess what? Yep they are gone and going ever more quickly.