The Electoral Commission is investigating key Brexit backer Arron Banks in response to Remainers attempting to tie him to a Russian conspiracy theory.
The regulator, which clashed repeatedly with the Banks-backed Leave.EU campaign during the referendum, has issued a statement saying it is “in the public interest … to ascertain whether or not impermissible donations were given to referendum campaigners”.
Specifically, the EC says it will examine:
- Whether or not Better for the Country Limited was the true source of donations made to referendum campaigners in its name, or if it was acting as an agent.
- Whether the recipients of its donations were given the information required by PPERA [Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000] in respect of the donor.
- What steps the recipients took to verify the identity and permissibility of Better for the Country Limited as a donor.
- Whether or not Mr. Banks was the true source of loans reported by a referendum campaigner in his name.
- Whether those individuals and entities involved in that arrangement acted in accordance with PPERA.
- Whether any individual facilitated a transaction with a non-qualifying person.
The probe has been interpreted as an attempt to establish whether or not Mr. Banks was acting as an agent of Vladimir Putin; claims that the Russian Federation swung the EU referendum for Leave through some nefarious means is a popular, if unpromising, hobby horse for Remain diehards such as Ben Bradshaw MP.
— LEAVE.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) November 1, 2017
The business tycoon has given every impression of finding the investigation laughable, initially tweeting “Gosh I’m terrified” in response to the news, and dismissing the Russian conspiracy theory as “complete bollocks from beginning to end”.
“The Leave.EU campaign was funded by myself, Peter Hargreaves and the general public,” he explained in a press release.
“My sole involvement with ‘The Russians’ was a boozy 6-hour lunch with the Ambassador where we drank the place dry” — a meeting described at length in his account of the referendum, The Bad Boys of Brexit.
“Hardly top secret stuff!”
The release goes on to say that a proper “judge-led inquiry reporting to Parliament that investigates the main campaign groups … would be the best way to clear this nonsense up once and for all.”
True to its usual pugnacious style, however, the campaign group goes on to say that this inquiry also needs to cover “who in Government lent on the Electoral Commission to allow the Government to send a leaflet to every home days before the spending limit cut off, and why did the Electoral Commission allow it?”
Oops! Electoral Comm dismisses Remainer allegations about Leave funding; fines major pro-EU group for false returns. https://t.co/SGTb4RFf9R
— Jack Montgomery ن (@JackBMontgomery) October 19, 2017
The Leave.EU release concludes by declaring “The ‘Remain’ Electoral Commission isn’t up to the job and consists of political placemen from all main parties” — a reference to its well-known EU conflicts of interest, and questionable decision to designate the Tory-led Vote Leave group as the “official” campaign to Leave the EU despite its smaller membership and narrower base of support.
“This is the Remain establishment once again trying to discredit the result and it’s all starting to get rather boring!”