The Russian connection
“Some secrets are so unpleasant that we flinch from uncovering them,” said Edward Lucas in The Times. But Britain seems to be finally waking up to the mounting evidence of “Russian meddling in the Brexit campaign”. It appears that large sums of “dark money” – donations whose real origin was disguised – were used to fund anti-eu groups during the referendum. For instance, £435,000 was given to Leave campaign groups by a shadowy Glasgow-based outfit, the Constitutional Research Council. More worryingly, £8m – the largest donation in British political history – was given to the Brexit cause by businessman Arron Banks. The source of the money is mysterious, and his donations are under investigation by the Electoral Commission; Banks has a Russian wife and extensive links to Russia. Meanwhile, it has been suggested that thousands of Twitter accounts run from Russia were publishing anti-eu tweets in the campaign. We now know for certain that Russia tried to influence the US presidential election, and that it would welcome any disruption in the EU, said Mark Galeotti in The Guardian. Hard evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit campaign could “delegitimise the original vote, given the narrow margin of victory”.
Let’s keep this in proportion, said Tony Barber in the Financial Times. So far, no actual proof of Russian financial support for the Brexit camp has come to light. A handful of Twitter accounts active during the referendum have been suspended because they were linked to Russian government “troll farms”; but “far too few to shape public opinion to any meaningful extent”. Even if further interference were proved, it would make “little sense to attribute Brexit victory to Russian dark arts”. The result’s real origins lie in David Cameron’s decisions, and in long-term social and political discontent in the UK. “The hysteria needs to stop,” said Tara Mccormack on Spiked. Remainers are entitled to be upset by the Brexit vote, but “the idea it was a Kremlin op is ridiculous”. Is it really likely that 76% of people in Boston, Lincolnshire voted Leave “because of Kremlin influence”?
Even so, there are questions that must be answered, said Lucas. Journalists from Opendemocracy looking into Banks’s affairs have found that he was in “grave difficulties” in 2013, but soon after, he began buying up assets, including clapped-out diamond mines in southern Africa. Whitehall rumour has it that Russia was the source of his new-found wealth. Britain is certainly a centre for covert Russian activity, said Andrew Gilligan in The Sunday Times. At least 14 people opposed to Vladimir Putin have died in suspicious circumstances here in recent years. When Trump’s former aide George Papadopoulos met a “high-level” Russian contact who offered to give him “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, the meeting took place in London. The US now has a major investigation examining Russia’s attempts to subvert its democracy. In Britain, we should be doing the same.