From Russia with love - did Russian gold buy the Brexit vote?
By Liam Sheasby, News Editor
12 Jun 2018
Andy Wigmore (left) and Arron Banks (right) at the Parliamentary Select Committee today.
Leave campaign funder Arron Banks is under investigation over ties to the Russian government amid fears it may have influenced the Brexit referendum back in 2016.
Banks, a Bristol-based businessman, was a key part of Leave’s success and was well known for his anti-EU stance following several large donations to UKIP in previous years.
The Sunday Times broke the scoop over the weekend to reveal that Mr Banks and Andy Wigmore, the Director of Communications for the Leave campaign, had met with the Russian ambassador to the UK on three occasions, as well as taking a trip to Moscow in February 2016 to discuss investing in Russian gold mining companies ahead of a proposed merger.
The concern is the possibility that Banks was invited to profit off this business deal and then used that guaranteed future return to bankroll his investment of approximately £9 million to the Leave campaign. The benefit to Russia would be both a weaker European Union but also a surge in gold price – the latter of which did occur in the aftermath of the referendum result.
Banks reacted angrily to the claims, telling The Sunday Times: "I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me." He described the suggestion of financial help from Russia as “complete, absolute garbage” and told Reuters that he was the victim of a “political witch hunt”.
Banks had tweeted back in 2016 about his investment into gold and mining, though he has since denied any investment happened.
I'm buying gold at the moment & big mining stocks ... https://t.co/4IzIxLjMO9— Arron Banks (@Arron_banks) July 17, 2016
Andy Wigmore went into further detail, telling The Guardian that “the goldmine deal never went forward... We looked at it briefly, found out it was way too difficult”.
Banks is currently under investigation by the Electoral Commission and Companies House, as well as appearing in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee investigation today to answer questions and concerns from MPs.
Damian Collins MP (Conservatives) is heading up the select committee investigation in Parliament and said that the public has a “right to know” about the degree of contact between Mr Banks and Russian officials. Speaking to The Guardian, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock called for a criminal investigation from Scotland Yard.
The story came to light after an investigation by Peter Jukes, a freelance journalist at Byline.com, and Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist for The Observer. Jukes was sent documents that originated from Isabel Oakeshott’s Dropbox (an online storage platform) in November 2017. He then invited Cadwalladr to collaborate on an investigation, following her success in exposing the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The story was due to be published this weekend by The Observer as a scoop, but The Sunday Times beat them to the punch after calling Oakeshott, a former political journalist at the paper.
Oakeshott was the ghost writer of Arron Banks’ book – The Bad Boys of Brexit. As part of this rapid 10-week writing process she had full access to all emails and paper documents concerning Banks and Wigmore and their involvement within the Leave campaign.
Oakeshott claims her Dropbox had been hacked, and that whoever did so then gave Peter Jukes the documents. The Sunday Times ran with her story, the emails, and stated that she hadn’t realised the significance of the information at hand until she recently revisited the documents.
Jukes and Cadwalladr argue that Oakeshott had the emails since Summer 2017 and they themselves had been working on the investigation since November. Oakeshott says it was always her intention to publish this information, though many on social media are suggesting the delay was to allow her to write her next book and to generate publicity at the time of release.
She sat on this evidence for 8 months - from precisely the moment the @ElectoralCommUK launched its investigation into Arron Bank's finances.— Peter Jukes (@peterjukes) June 10, 2018
In the US this would be called Obstruction of Justice
Oakeshott and Cadwalladr both appeared on Andrew Marr’s show, during which Russian collusion was discussed and Ms Oakeshott dismissed such an idea.
March 2018: Isabel Oakeshott demands Carole Cadwalladr investigates the Remain campaign after revealing Cambridge Analytica ties to Brexit— Matthew Garrahan (@MattGarrahan) June 10, 2018
June 2018: Oakeshott admits she’s been sitting on thousands of emails showing Russia ties to Brexit backers https://t.co/X7aTsjJJUz
Oakeshott has defended Banks and Wigmore, stating they were “shamelessly used by the Russians” and "had voters known about the links between Banks and Russia, I am certain they would still have made the same decision”.
Parliamentary investigations are ongoing. You can watch footage of Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore at the Select Committee via the link below.