Why was Brexit’s biggest bankroller talking to the Russians?

by Hugo Dixon | 10.06.2018

Vladimir Putin wanted Brexit because it weakens Europe. Arron Banks helped deliver it. The best way to scupper both men’s goals is to stop Brexit.

Banks is co-chair of Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign backed by Nigel Farage. He funnelled up to £21m into various bits of the Leave campaign both before the official referendum campaign and during it.

Stories in today’s Observer and Sunday Times detail multiple previously undisclosed meetings between Banks and Russian officials. The main claims are that Banks discussed Brexit with Russia’s ambassador to the UK – and that the envoy put the Leave.EU boss in touch with a Russian magnate who offered him a business deal involving six Russian gold mines.

Banks had previously insisted he had only met the ambassador once. The Sunday Times says they had three meetings: two in November 2015 and one in November 2016. The Observer mentions a fourth in August 2016.

When confronted by the Sunday Times about the discrepancy, Banks said: “I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me.”

Following the November 2015 meetings, Banks’ team liaised with the Russian embassy about helping arrange a trip to Moscow to pursue the gold deal. The Leave.EU boss eventually went to Moscow in February 2016, where the Observer says he was scheduled to meet high-level officials at a state-owned Russian bank that funded the gold project. Shortly after the deal was announced, Banks tweeted that he was buying gold.

But the Leave.EU boss told the Sunday Times: “We didn’t profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything”. He also said his visit to Moscow was a “family trip… No meetings were had with anyone, we visited the Hermitage Museum and went on a river cruise.” This account is odd since the Hermitage is in St Petersburg, not Moscow.

Today’s revelations are the latest evidence that Brexiters did not win the referendum fair and square. We already know that:

  • Leave.EU’s chief executive has been referred to the police by the Electoral Commission on suspicion that she committed criminal offences.
  • The Electoral Commission is investigating the source of Banks’ money.
  • A Financial Times investigation raised questions about the extent of Banks’ wealth.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating whether Banks and Leave.EU broke data protection laws.
  • Electoral Commission is investigating whether the official Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson, breached campaign finance rules.
  • 150,000 Russia-based Twitter accounts turned their attention on Brexit in the final days of the referendum.

Arron Banks last week initially refused to appear before a committee of MPs investigating the topic, though he has since tweeted to say he will attend this coming Tuesday after all.

MPs will have lots of detailed questions. But they also must keep their eye on the big picture: Putin is not our friend; he wants us out of the EU to weaken both us and Europe; and we can’t rely on Donald Trump, who is soft on Putin, to help us. The best way to be strong in a dangerous world is to stay in the EU.

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Edited by Bill Emmott

2 Responses to “Why was Brexit’s biggest bankroller talking to the Russians?”

  • Business is side stepping political functions and responsibilities when it suits them. And behind closed doors so we don’t have any idea of what these business leaders and foreign (often hostile) governments are discussing.

    The public is being sidelined and it is being used to the advantage by the wealthy and powerful.