MPs need to haul Arron Banks back for questioning

by Sebastian O'Meara | 18.06.2018

The Leave.EU boss has more questions to answer about how he bankrolled Brexit and what he was doing with the Russians following weekend revelations in the Observer and The Sunday Times.

Last week Arron Banks and his sidekick Andy Wigmore treated MPs with contempt when they appeared before a parliamentary committee. Their answers were often evasive. Wigmore took a perverse pride in telling the committee that pretty much anything he had ever said before was an exaggeration. 

It wasn’t just a boozy lunch with the Russian ambassador but two boozy lunches and a cup of tea thrown in. That’s the kind of omission that can make you lose your job if you’re Donald Trump’s national security adviser, but not enough to overly trouble a private citizen — even if he is the biggest political donor in British history.

Bite me” said Banks when news of the forgotten meetings came out a couple of days before the hearing — and the committee was only really set up for a nibble. Banks insisted he’d never received a rouble from the Russians and walked out so as not to be late for a lunch date with Ian Paisley Junior, the DUP MP. 

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But now it seems Banks and Wigmore may have forgotten a good deal more than they remembered forgetting last week, and the committee’s jaws may now open a fair bit wider.

First on Saturday evening the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr reported that the interaction between Leave.EU and the Russian embassy seemed to go well beyond getting drunk with the ambassador. When Philip Hammond, then foreign secretary, said in a speech in March 2016 that ‘the only country who would like us to leave the EU is Russia’, the embassy took it badly and put out an aggrieved press release. According to the Observer, this prompted Wigmore to suggest sending a “note of support to the Ambassador”. 

Wigmore also specifically denied to MPs that he discussed with the Russians the arrest of Farage aide George Cottrell. But the Observer says it has evidence suggesting he passed documents relating to Cottrell to a contact at the embassy. 

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times detailed another Wigmore lie – this one repudiated by Banks himself. In March, asked where Banks got the millions he gave Leave.EU, Wigmore said it came from the £43 million sale of a company called NewLaw. But it turns out Banks only owned 5% of NewLaw and sold his stake two years before the company was sold for £35 million in 2014. “He got it completely wrong,” Banks told the paper, “not for the first time”.

Wigmore seems to see lying as a badge of honour. But MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee may see things differently. And as its chair Damian Collins says, the real question is now why the lying continues.

MPs should drag Banks and Wigmore back for another grilling. This time they need to bite hard.

Edited by Hugo Dixon