Arron Banks faces new claims of mis­lead­ing MPs over Brexit

 Leaked mes­sages ‘show un­de­clared links’  Emails ‘con­tra­dict state­ment to MPs’

The Observer - - Front Page - Ca­role Cad­wal­ladr, Mark Townsend & Toby Helm

The con­tro­ver­sial busi­ness­man Arron Banks may have mis­led par­lia­ment over links be­tween his pro-Brexit cam­paign and his in­sur­ance busi­ness dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum, ac­cord­ing to ex­plo­sive cor­re­spon­dence re­leased by whistle­blow­ers.

Hun­dreds of in­ter­nal emails leaked by for­mer em­ploy­ees from El­don In­sur­ance and Rock Ser­vices to the Ob­server re­veal that – de­spite cat­e­gor­i­cal de­nials by Banks – in­sur­ance staff worked on the Leave.EU cam­paign from their com­pany of­fices.

Any work car­ried out in the months be­fore the ref­er­en­dum should be de­clared un­der elec­toral law.

They in­di­cate that El­don and Rock Ser­vices staff con­tacted com­pa­nies for ma­te­rial for ap­par­ent use in the Brexit cam­paign, and dis­cussed shar­ing data. In a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­leased to­day, the web­site Open Democ­racy also pub­lishes ev­i­dence that sug­gests sig­nif­i­cant cross­over be­tween Banks’s in­sur­ance and po­lit­i­cal staff dur­ing the cam­paign.

The rev­e­la­tions come days af­ter the Na­tional Crime Agency an­nounced it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of crim­i­nal of­fences by Banks and Leave.EU.

Damian Collins, chair of par­lia­ment’s in­quiry into fake news, said that the leaked emails ap­peared to “flatly con­tra­dict” what Banks had told his com­mit­tee, and that he could have “de­lib­er­ately mis­led the com­mit­tee and par­lia­ment on an im­por­tant point”. Collins re­quested the emails and said they would form key ev­i­dence as part of his in­quiry into dis­in­for­ma­tion and its threat to democ­racy.

The lat­est al­le­ga­tions to hit Banks come be­fore an ap­pear­ance on the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show to­day, with the busi­ness­man fly­ing home from Ber­muda yes­ter­day. Collins said: “If El­don em­ploy­ees were be­ing paid to work on the cam­paign dur­ing the reg­u­lated pe­riod, it should have been a de­clared ex­pense. We asked him di­rectly if he’d used his in­sur­ance em­ploy­ees to work on the cam­paigns and he said they didn’t.”

One ex-El­don In­sur­ance em­ployee told the Ob­server: “I made it ab­so­lutely clear that I didn’t want to work on the po­lit­i­cal stuff. I wasn’t com-

fort­able with it. I didn’t want to be com­plicit in it. There were quite a lot of spats about it. Peo­ple were frozen out if they re­fused to work on it.”

Emails seen by the Ob­server in­di­cate that El­don em­ploy­ees worked on some of Leave.EU’s most con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum mes­sag­ing, in­clud­ing cam­paigns sim­i­lar to Ukip’s no­to­ri­ous “Break­ing Point” poster, which ap­peared in June 2016, days be­fore the EU ref­er­en­dum on 23 June 2016.

One email chain that ap­pears to have come orig­i­nally from a Rock Ser­vices em­ployee to staff at the stock photo agency Getty Im­ages, dated 10 March 2016, shows the in­sur­ance com­pany’s staff mem­ber re­quest­ing the right to use a se­ries of pho­tographs of refugees walk­ing through eastern Europe. The Rock Ser­vices em­ployee ex­plains the image is to be used for an “ad­ver­tise­ment talk­ing about the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion and the refugee cri­sis”.

An on­line ad­vert by Leave.EU ap­peared in March 2016 show­ing refugees walk­ing through Slove­nia below a head­line at­tack­ing the EU sum­mit on the mi­grant cri­sis, with the pho­to­graph used by the pro-Brexit group sim­i­lar to the im­ages re­quested by the Rock Ser­vices worker.

An­other email, also dated 10 March 2016, from a Rock Ser­vices em­ployee to the photo agency, of­fers a sense of the im­pact such anti-im­mi­gra­tion im­ages had in the Brexit cam­paign. “One of the ad­verts will have a reach of 10m over the 3 weeks we would like to use it, mean­ing a po­ten­tial of 30m40m im­pres­sions,” writes the in­sur­ance em­ployee.

An­other for­mer El­don worker al­leged that they were fre­quently asked to help Leave.EU’s pro-Brexit cam­paign. “Some of these im­ages were re­ally hor­ri­ble, the im­mi­grants and refugee stuff. But there were al­ways these ur­gent re­quests com­ing in. You were told to stop what you were do­ing and do some­thing for Leave.EU,” they said.

The doc­u­ments and eye­wit­ness ac­counts ob­tained by the Ob­server and Open Democ­racy al­lege sig­nif­i­cant cross­over took place be­tween Banks’s in­sur­ance and po­lit­i­cal staff in the ref­er­en­dum.

Banks has ve­he­mently de­nied the ex­is­tence of such a re­la­tion­ship. When ap­pear­ing be­fore Collins’s par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee in June he told MPs that Leave.EU and El­don In­sur­ance were sep­a­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions with com­pletely dif­fer­ent staff.

Brit­tany Kaiser, who worked for Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, the de­funct data firm at the heart of the Face­book scan­dal, told the same com­mit­tee that she saw “with my own eyes” em­ploy­ees of El­don In­sur­ance staffing a call cen­tre work­ing for Leave.EU.

When her claims were later put by MPs to Banks he dis­missed them as a “flat lie” and also said that staff work­ing on dif­fer­ent projects were “clearly de­marked”.

Banks de­clined to re­spond to any of the al­le­ga­tions put to him by the Ob­server, while Andy Wig­more, Leave. EU’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, is­sued a “no com­ment”.

Collins said that the ev­i­dence raised pro­found new ques­tions for Banks. “We specif­i­cally asked him about whether El­don had un­der­taken work on be­half of Leave.EU and he said no. It raises very se­ri­ous ques­tions be­cause that work needs to be counted as an elec­tion ex­pense,” said the Con­ser­va­tive MP for Folke­stone.

Yet at least one se­nior El­don em­ployee ap­peared to have pro­moted them­selves in their – since deleted – on­line pro­file as work­ing for both El­don and Leave.EU at the same time.

An email, dated 18 March 2016, seems to show a Leave.EU of­fi­cial in­form­ing a Rock Ser­vices em­ployee that they have been asked to send some “ad­di­tional data to you, 1 mil­lion phone num­bers and the mem­bers data”.

Re­main-sup­port­ing MPs from all the main par­ties said the lat­est rev­e­la­tions raised se­ri­ous ques­tions over how the ref­er­en­dum had been won – and strength­ened the case for an­other pub­lic vote. The Tory MP Phillip Lee, said: “The more we hear about the risks of Brexit and the way it was sold to the pub­lic by peo­ple who had lit­tle or no in­ter­est in the truth, or fol­low­ing rules, the stronger the case be­comes for sus­pend­ing or re­vok­ing ar­ti­cle 50 un­til all of these ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties are cleared up.”

Pho­to­graph by Steve Finn

Arron Banks ar­riv­ing at Gatwick yes­ter­day from Ber­muda, en route to the An­drew Marr show.

An anti-mi­grant ad­vert sim­i­lar to one worked on at Rock Ser­vices.

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