By Campaign Agent Joe Monk
If there weren’t already enough obstacles to Brexit negotiations, then it’s taken a turn for the worst with investigations being launched into the alleged spending violations of Arron Banks during the referendum campaign. Banks, a former Tory donor, was a prominent figure during the referendum campaign; he made the biggest political donations in British political history to ensure that the leave campaign could maximise its resources and promote its message that leaving the EU was in the best interests of the country. In the aftermath of the referendum, he was portrayed as the man who bought Brexit, claiming to have embezzled in the region of 7.5 million pounds into Leave.EU – one of the two campaign groups arguing for a departure from the EU.
In the last week, the National Crime Agency declared that it was to begin conducting an investigation into Banks and his involvement with the Leave.EU campaign. Allegations posit that Banks was not the credible source of loans made to the campaign, thus suggesting illegal breaches were made. UK legislation makes it clear that loans and donations must come from permissible sources which subsequently rules out any foreign funding.
The announcement of the investigation has inevitably acted as a catalyst for some to increase calls for the Brexit process to be halted, just as there seemed to be some breakthrough with Dominic Raab’s announcement of a possible deal being formulated at the end of the month. However, it seems unlikely that this will have much effect on the negotiations. It seems hardly compelling that leaflets or other forms of media outlets will have convinced those swayed towards remain, such as young students and academics to mark the stereotype, to instantly change their vote. More to this, there is the obvious counter argument projected by the leave camp that David Cameron famously spent in £9 million of the taxpayers money of leaflets and propaganda outlets to be distributed across the country, thus giving them a considerable advantage in the referendum campaign.
Reverting back to the Banks investigation, he has caused much confusion as to where the£8 million pound donations came from. In his recent interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC, Banks claimed that the £8 million pound loans had in fact come from one of his UK-based companies – Rock Services, and that the investigation was simply aiming to undermine the article 50 implementation, and therefore the Brexit process. Speculation has arisen as to whether the sources had come from foreign outlets given that Banks is alleged to have had suspicious dealings and meetings with Russian oligarchs in the past. According to documents obtained by the Observer, Banks had two meetings with Russian officials in the launch week of Leave.EU; preceded by a trip to Moscow in February 2016 to meet Russian oligarchs; and, more worryingly, numerous meetings between Banks and Russian officials over the period between 2015 and the end of November 2016. The watchful eye will notice that this coincides with the period of the Brexit referendum and the election of Trump in the United States.
For now, due process needs to take its course and allow for a thorough investigation to take place. The rule of law that is embedded in our country encompasses the values of `innocent until proven guilty` and, like it or not, this is the mantra that needs to be taken. Nonetheless, it doesn’t help his case that he admitted he would now rather vote for remain due to the government’s handling of Brexit. Whether it is because of this, or to ensure that the investigation is cast into the oblivion remains to be seen.
Sources and Further Reading
Martin Fletcher, ‘Arron Banks: the man who bought Brexit’, New Statesman (13 October 2016)
Laura Kuenssberg, ‘Banks probe unlikely to affect Brexit process’, BBC (1 November 2018)
Benjamin Kentish, ‘Arron Banks interview: Brexit donor fuels confusion over criminal investigation amid anger after BBC appearance’, The Independent (4 November 2018)
Carole Cadwalladr and Peter Jukes, ‘Arron Banks ‘met Russian officials multiple times before Brexit vote’, The Guardian (9 June 2018)
Greg Heffer, ‘Major Brexit donor Arron Banks denies cash came from Russia – and changes mind about leaving EU’, Sky News (4 November 2018)