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Brexit’s banker gets lawyered-up
Bad boys, Issue 1473

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BAD BOYS’ BANKER: Arron Banks, who is appealing against the Electoral Commission’s decision to fine Leave.EU £70,000
WHEN the Electoral Commission announced in November that it was investigating the finances of the Brexit campaign, Arron Banks pretended not to care. “Gosh I’m terrified,” he tweeted.

He cares now. Banks – one of the self-styled “bad boys of Brexit” – referred the Observer to the police after it published leaked emails revealing his multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador during the Brexit campaign. He claimed the Observer’s stories were the result of a “theft” from his ghostwriter Isabel Oakeshott – a charge the Observer denies.

After Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator, said the story showed “Farage’s friend Arron Banks colluded [with the] Russians to deliver Brexit”, the bad boy’s solicitors at Mishchon de Reya ordered him to delete the “defamatory” tweet and apologise. Verhofstadt refused to back down.

Russia and the bad boys
Undeterred, the lawyered-up Banks is trying to stop the police investigating. A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission told the Eye it had received notice of an appeal to the courts against its decision to fine Leave.EU £70,000 for incorrectly reporting its referendum spending, and to call in the Met because of “reasonable grounds to suspect” that Banks’s colleague Liz Bilney had “committed criminal offences”. But this argument is just a skirmish. The real threat to the Brexiteers comes from the commission’s wider investigation into the funding of the whole Farage campaign, and from yet more revelations of contacts between Russia and the bad boys.

Banks helped bring about Brexit by making the largest donation in British political history. Five registered groups reported donations from his company Better for the Country totalling £2,359,842.76. The firm funded Martin Durkin’s WAGTV to make a Putinesque propaganda film, Brexit: the Movie, which confidently asserted that leaving the EU would bring “prosperity on a level we cannot even imagine now”. Other beneficiaries included Grassroots Out, Trade Unionists Against the EU, Veterans for Britain, and UKIP. On top of that, Banks gave loans of £6m to Leave.EU.

‘The true source of loans’
The Electoral Commission is investigating “whether or not Better for the Country Limited was the true source of donations, or if it was acting as an agent”. It also wants to know “whether or not Banks was the true source of loans reported by a referendum campaigner in his name”. Interestingly, the commission makes a point of saying that “donors from outside the UK and Gibraltar were impermissible donors for the purposes of the EU Referendum”. Last week the Financial Times reported that Banks’s Gibraltar-based insurance company made a loss of £32m in the referendum year of 2016.

Banks’s lawyers are keeping busy for a reason. The threats against newspapers and Guy Verhofstadt will make timid editors think twice. The Met’s investigations will be slowed by the willingness of Leave.EU, and reportedly Vote Leave, to challenge the Electoral Commission’s findings in court. By the time he runs out of legal manoeuvres, the clock will have ticked down, Brexit will be over and the truth about the referendum campaign won’t seem to matter much any more.

Ratbiter’

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Private Eye Issue 1472