Arron Banks faces MPs' questions over potential Russian funding for Brexit
Key players from the Leave.EU platform, Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, face a grilling from MPs on Tuesday over alleged meetings with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.
Since the 2016 referendum, questions have been raised about Leave.EU's unofficial campaign and its chief backer Mr Banks.
The DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) committee who are investigating the use of "fake news" in the Brexit referendum will question Banks and Wigmore over their relationship with data company Cambridge Analytica, the possible misuse of information and the alleged close relationship between both Brexiters and Russian officials.
The Sunday Times reported that Banks, who helped fund Leave.EU, had met with Russian officials during the referendum period more frequently than he had admitted to in his book ‘The Bad Boys of Brexit’.
When questioned about meeting the Russian ambassador in London, they said they had proposed having dinner together because Banks’ wife is from the Russian diaspora and Wigmore, who is a Belize diplomat, wanted Russia to buy bananas from his native country.
They denied receiving money for the campaign from Russia.
When asked about meeting Cambridge Analytica, Wigmore said: "We believed CA were perceived as one of the best political campaigning companies. The truth is, our marketing people actually knew more than they did."In his
In his book, Banks said Leave.EU had "partnered" with CA but Banks clarified in the Commons that "we put them into the designation document", saying that they would have hired them had they won the designation.
Banks claimed that the success of the campaign had been thanks to Leave.EU’s strategies: "I think we won the referendum because there were two campaigns. Vote Leave was appealing to the soft Tories, while we were appealing to the Labour voters for whom migration is a huge issue."
On the success of the campaign on social media, Banks said they had not misused data, rather they had known exactly how to catch their audience's attention: "My experience with social media is it's a firestorm, like a bushfire, that blows over everything. Our skill was creating bushfires and then putting a fan on that would just blow it over everything."
"Winning an election isn't about facts", they said.
When asked by MP Chris Mattheson whether they had engaged in 'fake news', according to The Guardian, Banks retorted saying: "I would say, Chris, that parliament itself is the biggest source of fake news in the country … straight after this hearing you’ll be at lunch with some Guardian journalist quaffing a glass of chablis and spinning this how you want."
After the inquiry, Damien Collins chair of the DCMS committeee and head of the interrogation said: "Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore themselves put on the record that they frequently lie, exaggerate, misspeak and misunderstand. So it is difficult for the Committee to know if we should take all of their answers seriously when it comes to data sharing and misuse, campaign spending, and their meetings with high ranking Russian officials. They accuse other witnesses to this Committee of being dishonest, yet admit to the inconsistencies in their own evidence.
"Our inquiry is about getting to the truth of these matters, which is of substantial public interest. We will be writing to them to follow up on various points raised during their evidence, and the hard copy evidence that was submitted by Mr Wigmore today.”