Arron Banks, the boss of an insurance company that gave 8.4 million pounds (9.4 million euros) to the “Leave. EU” campaign led by far-right leader Nigel Farage, lied about his meetings at the Russian Embassy in London, said the House of Commons Media Committee in a report made public Sunday.
The revelation comes as part of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Banks, who was in discussion with the Russian authorities over a contract to operate gold and diamond mines “seems to want to hide the extent of his contacts with Russia,” says the document. After eighteen months of investigation, MEPs have only discovered “the tip of the iceberg” of Russian interference in British politics, argues Damien Collins, the Conservative MP who chairs the body.
“It appears that [Banks] took advantage of his relations with the Russians he met for his business deals, and he used that money to invest in the Brexit campaign, I think it will be a serious business,” said Collins. In addition, Mr Banks reportedly used his insurance company’s customer data to target “Leave.EU’s propaganda.”
Initially, MPs set out to investigate the proliferation of “fake news” and its impact on the politics. But The Observer’s revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal over targeted use during the Brexit referendum campaign of data captured from Facebook, and suspicions of Russian funding of “Leave. EU,” led them to expand their investigations.
“Fake news now constitutes a danger for our democracy,” writes the commission, which proposes legislative reinforcement to stop these “concerted misinformation campaigns,” including obliging online political advertising publishers to identify their source of funding and an increase in the fines that can be levied by the Electoral Commission.
On Sunday, The Guardian revealed that “Vote Leave” did not respect the campaign truce decided after the murder, a week away from the vote, of Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right sympathiser. On the contrary, the organisation continued to pound targeted voters with messages suggesting that Turkey was about to enter the EU and that the UK, if it remained, would be overwhelmed by Muslims.
The investigation’s revelations come at a time when polls show a growing uncertainty among the public about the merits of leaving the bloc. For the first time, according to a YouGov poll, a majority of Britons (51 percent) are in favour of a new referendum on the terms of the exit agreement to be concluded this autumn.