Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum

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There are ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum[1] being undertaken by the UK Electoral Commission, the UK Parliament's Culture Select Committee, and the United States Senate, on alleged Russian interference in the "Brexit" referendum of 23 June 2016.[2] This has raised questions over the legal validity of the referendum.[3]

Timeline[edit]

Background[edit]

After the referendum on the United Kingdom exiting the European Union ("Brexit"), Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Russia "might be happy" with a positive Brexit vote. The official Remain campaign accused the Kremlin of secretly backing a positive Brexit vote.[4]

Before the vote[edit]

  • 2014 July 22, Laurence Levy, a lawyer with the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, advises Rebekah Mercer, Steve Bannon, and Alexander Nix on the legality of their company, Cambridge Analytica, being involved in U.S. elections. He advises that Nix and any foreign nationals without a green card working for the company not be involved in any decisions about work the company performs for any clients related to U.S. elections. He further advises Nix to recuse himself from any involvement with the company's U.S. election work because he is not a U.S. citizen.[5][6]
  • 2015 September 26–27, Andy Wigmore meets Alexander Udod during the UKIP annual conference at the Doncaster Racecourse. Udod is a Russian diplomat and suspected Russian intelligence officer who is expelled from the U.K. in 2018 in retaliation for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In October, Udod arranges a November lunch for Wigmore, Arron Banks, and the Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko.[7][8][9]
  • 24 October 2015 Arron Banks sends an email to Steve Bannon and others to request help from Cambridge Analytica, where Bannon is a VP, with fundraising in the U.S. for the Leave.EU campaign. Foreign contributions to British political campaigns are illegal. Banks comes under criminal investigation in 2018 in part over questions about Leave.EU's funding sources.[10][11]
  • 6 November 2015, Wigmore and Banks have lunch with Yakovenko at the ambassador's residence in London; they brief him on Brexit. In a June 2018 interview, Wigmore tells The Washington Post his goal for the meeting was to discuss finding a buyer for a banana plantation in Belize.[7][8]
  • 17 November 2015, Andy Wigmore, Banks, and Cambridge Analytica executive Brittany Kaiser launch the Leave.EU campaign.[12][13] Yakovenko introduces Wigmore and Banks to Russian oligarch Siman Povarenkin. In 2018, The Guardian reports that documents related to the meeting suggest Banks was offered business deals.[12]
  • 2016 March, Philip Hammond, the former Secretary for Defence and Foreign Secretary (later the Chancellor of the Exchequer) stated "the only country who would like us to leave the EU is Russia" at a speech in March 2016.[14]

After the 23 June 2016 vote[edit]

  • 19 March 2018, Channel 4 broadcasts its investigative documentary on Cambridge Analytica.[29]
  • June 2018, The Guardian suggested that Arron Banks, the biggest donor to the campaign for leaving, and co-organiser of Leave.EU received the offer of a Russian gold mine, and had had a series of meetings with the Russian Ambassador. On 14 June 2018, Banks appeared before Parliamentary committee hearing, where he appeared to admit to having lied about his engagements with Russians, and later walked out refusing to answer further questions by citing a luncheon appointment with the Democratic Unionist Party.[30][failed verification]
  • July 2018, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, released an interim report on 'Disinformation and ‘fake news’', stating that Russia had engaged in "unconventional warfare" through Twitter and other social media against the United Kingdom, designed to amplify support for a "leave" vote in Brexit.[31]
  • 20 September, AggregateIQ, a Canadian political consultancy and analytics company, receives the first General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) notice issued by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for using people's data "for purposes which they would not have expected." Various pro-Brexit campaigns paid the company £3.5 million to target ads at prospective voters. While its Brexit work was before the GDPR went into effect, it was fined because it retained and continued to use the data after the GDPR came into full force. The company is affiliated with SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica, and Cambridge Analytica employees sometimes call AggregateIQ "our Canadian office."[32]
  • 1 November 2018, The British National Crime Agency opens a criminal investigation into Arron Banks upon referral from the Electoral Commission and concluded "we have reasonable grounds to suspect that: Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8m reported as loans" and "Various criminal offences may have been committed."[33] The commission believes Banks facilitated a loan from Rock Holdings to his Leave.EU campaign. Rock Holdings is barred from funding campaigns in the U.K. under British election law because it is on the Isle of Man, which is a possession of the British Crown but not part of the United Kingdom.[34]
  • 2019 February, The Guardian reports that Brittany Kaiser, former business development director of SCL Group, was subpoenaed by Robert Mueller. Her spokesman said she was cooperating fully with his investigation. She is the first person with links to both Brexit and the Trump campaign known to have been questioned by Mueller.[35]

Social media[edit]

Russian interference in the Brexit referendum included the promotion of misinformation through both fake social media accounts and state-sponsored media outlets such as RT and Sputnik. In addition to interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russian trolls have previously been documented promoting fake claims of election fraud after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and attempting to amplify the public impact of terrorist attacks,[36] with Prime Minister Theresa May accusing the Russian government of “deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”.[37]

RT[edit]

According to a US senate report, Russian state media channel RT covered the referendum campaign extensively and offered "systematically one-sided coverage".[38][39] A parliamentary inquiry into disinformation and 'fake news' cited research estimating the value of anti-EU Russian state media during the EU referendum campaign at between £1.4 and 4.14 million.[36]

Twitter bots[edit]

Data released by Twitter in 2018 identified 3,841 accounts of Russian origin affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, as well as 770 potentially from Iran, which collectively sent over 10 million Tweets in "an effort to spread disinformation and discord", according to The Telegraph, with a "day-long blitz" on the day of the referendum.[40][41] One study, with a sample of 1.5 million tweets containing hashtags relating to the referendum, found that almost a third of all tweets had been generated by just 1% of the 300,000 sampled accounts. They found that both pro-Leave and pro-Remain bots existed but that "the family of hashtags associated with the argument for leaving the EU dominates", with pro-Leave bots tweeting more than three times as often.[42][43]

In November 2017, The Times reported that researchers from Swansea University and UC Berkeley had identified around 150,000 accounts with links to Russia that tweeted about Brexit in the run-up to the referendum.[44][45] Others at City, University of London had previously documented a network of 13,493 accounts that tweeted about the referendum, “only to disappear from Twitter shortly after the ballot”.[46] A working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research claims the influence of Twitter bots may have been significant enough to impact the result, roughly calculating that automated accounts may have ultimately been responsible for around 1.76 percentage points of the 'Leave' vote share.[47][48]

An analysis by cybersecurity firm F-Secure indicated that "suspicious activity" relating to Brexit-related posts on Twitter has continued after the referendum and into 2019, with Professor Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter commenting that the observed patterns of activity are consistent with tactics used by Russian troll farms.[49][50]

Questions about Arron Banks' funding[edit]

Arron Banks was the largest donor to the Brexit campaign. Prior to the donations, Southern Rock, Banks' underwriting company was technically insolvent and needed to find £60m to meet regulations.[51] It was saved by a £77m cash injection, mostly in September 2015 from another company, ICS Risk Solutions. According to openDemocracy, when questioned by MP Rebecca Pow, "Banks implied that this was simply him shuffling money between two companies he owns".[52] They have also reported that, while Banks has stated that he owns 90 per cent of the company he appears to actually own between 50 and 75% according to filings from a subsidiary, "suggest[ing] there may be an undeclared shareholder."[53]

At the time, Louise Kentish of a company called STM joined the board. The day after the referendum, her husband Alan Kentish, CEO of STM and two other STM people joined as well.[54] STM specialises in opaque wealth management using trusts and similar.[54]

Around the same time, September 2015, Banks, along with Andy Wigmore, started having multiple meetings with Russian officials posted at the Russian embassy in London.[55][56]

Also according to his South African business partner, Christopher Kimber,[57] Banks had been in Russia trying to raise funds around that time: "I was finally made aware in October [2015] that in truth, Banks had been dealing with Russians who contemplated investing in the mines.... I was informed by Banks that he had travelled to Russia and discussed with them the diamond opportunities as well as gold mining opportunities in Russia. He further indicated that he would be meeting with the Russians again during November [2015]."[58]

Months after the cash injection Banks started making large donations to political causes including the £8m to the Brexit campaigns. The UK's Electoral Commission stated "we have reasonable grounds to suspect that: Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8m reported as loans" leading to the 2018 criminal investigation of Banks.[33][59][54][51]

Banks states there was no Russian money and sent financial statements to the BBC's Newsnight programme to prove it but an email attached to the statements included the text "Redact the reference for Ural Properties and any references which include sensitive info e.g. the account numbers the money was sent from." Newsnight featured a story about this on 8 November 2018. It remains to be seen which accounts these are or what Ural Properties, a Gibraltar-based company, does.[60][61]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Francesca Gillet (2 November 2017). "Electoral Commission launches probe into Russian meddling in Brexit vote using Twitter and Facebook". Evening Standard. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  2. ^ 'UK investigates Brexit campaign funding amid speculation of Russian meddling' (1 November 2017) Reuters. 'The UK's election watchdog has now questioned Google over Russian meddling in Brexit' (28 November 2017) Business Insider. P. Wintour, 'Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report' (10 January 2018) Guardian
  3. ^ Ewan McGaughey (August 16, 2018). "Could Brexit be void? (King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 2018-29)". King's Law Journal. 29 (3): 331–343. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3232632. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  4. ^ S. Rosenberg, ‘EU referendum: What does Russia gain from Brexit?’ (26 June 2016) BBC News
  5. ^ Levy, Laurence (July 22, 2014). "Participation in US Elections" (PDF). Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. Retrieved March 23, 2018 – via MSNBC.
  6. ^ Schecter, Anna R. (March 23, 2018). "Wylie: Foreigners worked for Cambridge Analytica on NC Senate campaign". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  7. ^ a b c d Roig-Franzia, Manuel; Helderman, Rosalind S.; Booth, WIlliam; Hamburger, Tom; Timberg, Craig; Crites, Alice; Dawsey, Josh; Tate, Julie; Adam, Karla (June 28, 2018). "How the 'Bad Boys of Brexit' forged ties with Russia and the Trump campaign – and came under investigators' scrutiny". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "Email trail shows how Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore were cultivated". The Sunday Times. June 10, 2018. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  9. ^ "BBC Parliament – UKIP Conference". BBC. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  10. ^ Townsend, Mark; Cadwalladr, Carole (November 17, 2018). "Emails reveal Arron Banks' links to Steve Bannon in quest for campaign cash". The Guardian. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  11. ^ Jane Mayer (November 17, 2018). "New Evidence Emerges of Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica's Role in Brexit". NewYorker.com. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  12. ^ a b Cadwalladr, Carole; Jukes, Peter (July 8, 2018). "Revealed: Leave.EU campaign met Russian officials as many as 11 times". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  13. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole; Jukes, Peter (June 9, 2018). "Arron Banks 'met Russian officials multiple times before Brexit vote'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  14. ^ P. Hammond, Alternatives to EU Membership (2 March 2016) "the EU already either has, or is negotiating, trade deals with all the biggest Commonwealth countries, and none of our allies wants us to leave the EU. Not Australia, not New Zealand, not Canada, not the US. In fact, the only country who would like us to leave the EU is Russia. That should tell us all we need to know."
  15. ^ Sabbagh, Dan (June 12, 2018). "Arron Banks tells MPs: I have no business interests in Russia". The Guardian. Retrieved June 13, 2018. "What's wrong with that? We gave them a telephone number," Banks said. The committee heard Wigmore had obtained the number after he supplied one for No 10 to a receptionist for Donald Trump. According to Wigmore, she said: "You're British, do you have the telephone number for No 10 Downing Street? We do not have [a] relationship with the British or any of these governments."
  16. ^ Highly probable' that Russia interfered in Brexit referendum, Labour MP says' (13 December 2016) Independent
  17. ^ J. Kanter and A. Bienkov, 'Labour MPs think the government is hiding info about Russia interfering with Brexit' (23 February 2016) Business Insider
  18. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (February 26, 2017). "Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media". The Guardian. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  19. ^ "AAPC awards Tony Fabrizio as Pollster of the Year". Fabrizio Lee. March 17, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  20. ^ Shipman, March 26. (March 26, 2017). "The bad boys of Brexit join fight to break up California". The Sunday Times. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  21. ^ Chumley, Cheryl K. (March 28, 2017). "Brexit chiefs eye 2-state solution for California -- Calexit". The Washington Times. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  22. ^ Wisckol, Martin (April 1, 2017). "California split overplayed, says Scott Baugh, former Orange County GOP chairman". Orange County Register. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  23. ^ 'MPs order Facebook to hand over evidence of Russian election meddling' (24 October 2017) Telegraph
  24. ^ T. Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (Penguin Random House 2018) 105. C. Cadwalladr, 'Brexit, the ministers, the professor and the spy: how Russia pulls strings in UK' (4 November 2017) Guardian. S. Walters, 'Putin's link to Boris and Gove's Brexit 'coup' revealed: Tycoon who netted millions from Russian gas deal funds think tank that helped write the ministers letter demanding May take a tougher stance on leaving the EU' (25 November 2017) Mail on Sunday
  25. ^ Democratic Congressmen request information about possible Russian interference in "Brexit" vote (12 December 2017).
  26. ^ M. Burgess, 'Facebook claims Russia paid for 3 ads around Brexit – costing 73p' (13 December 2017) Wired
  27. ^ P. Wintour, 'Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report' (10 January 2018) Guardian
  28. ^ US Committee on Foreign Relations, Minority Report, 'Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security' (2018)
  29. ^ "Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks". Channel 4. March 19, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  30. ^ C. Cadwalladr, 'Arron Banks ‘met Russian officials multiple times before Brexit vote’' (9 June 2018) Guardian. C. Cadwalladr and P. Jukes, 'Leave. EU faces new questions over contacts with Russia' (16 June 2018) Guardian. C. Cadwalladr, 'Arron Banks, Brexit and the Russia connection' (16 June 2018) The Observer.
  31. ^ House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, 'Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report' (July 2018) (July 2018) ch 5, Russian influence in political campaigns.
  32. ^ Baraniuk, Chris (20 September 2018). "Vote Leave data firm hit with first ever GDPR notice". BBC News. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  33. ^ a b "Electoral Commission | Report on investigation into payments made to Better for the Country and Leave.EU". www.electoralcommission.org.uk.
  34. ^ Castle, Stephen (November 1, 2018). "'Godfather of Brexit' Arron Banks Investigated Over Campaign Financing". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  35. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (February 17, 2019). "Mueller questions Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser". The Guardian. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  36. ^ a b "Disinformation and 'fake news': Final Report". publications.parliament.uk. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – House of Commons. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  37. ^ Mason, Rowena (14 November 2017). "Theresa May accuses Russia of interfering in elections and fake news". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  38. ^ Wintour, Patrick (10 January 2018). "Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  39. ^ "Putin's Asymemetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security" (PDF). foreign.senate.gov. 10 January 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  40. ^ Field, Matthew; Wright, Mike (17 October 2018). "Russian trolls sent thousands of pro-Leave messages on day of Brexit referendum, Twitter data reveals". The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  41. ^ "Enabling further research of information operations on Twitter". blog.twitter.com. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  42. ^ Baraniuk, Chris (21 June 2016). "Beware the Brexit bots: The Twitter spam out to swing your vote". New Scientist. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  43. ^ Howard, Philip N.; Kollanyi, Bence (2016). "Bots, #Strongerin, and #Brexit: Computational Propaganda During the UK-EU Referendum". arXiv:1606.06356. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2798311.
  44. ^ Mostrous, Alexi; Bridge, Mark; Gibbons, Katie (15 November 2017). "Russia used Twitter bots and trolls 'to disrupt' Brexit vote". The Times. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  45. ^ "Russian Twitter accounts promoted Brexit ahead of EU referendum – Times newspaper". Reuters. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  46. ^ Bastos, Marco T.; Mercea, Dan (10 October 2017). "The Brexit Botnet and User-Generated Hyperpartisan News". Social Science Computer Review. 37 (1): 38–54. doi:10.1177/0894439317734157. ISSN 0894-4393.
  47. ^ "Twitter Bots Helped Trump and Brexit Win, Economic Study Says". Bloomberg News. 23 May 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  48. ^ Gorodnichenko, Yuriy; Pham, Tho; Talavera, Oleksandr (2018). "Social Media, Sentiment and Public Opinions: Evidence from #Brexit and #USElection". National Bureau of Economic Research. doi:10.3386/w24631.
  49. ^ "Brexit: Foreign far-right Twitter users 'manipulated debate'". BBC News. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  50. ^ "Brexit-Twitter". F-Secure Blog. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  51. ^ a b "We need to talk about where Brexit funder Arron Banks gets his money". openDemocracy. 17 April 2018.
  52. ^ "What we learned about Arron Banks at the fake news inquiry". openDemocracy. 12 June 2018.
  53. ^ "Arron Banks and Brexit's offshore secrets". openDemocracy. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  54. ^ a b c "Arron Banks and Brexit's offshore secrets". openDemocracy. 12 April 2018.
  55. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (16 June 2018). "Arron Banks, Brexit and the Russia connection". The Guardian.
  56. ^ David D. Kirkpatrick; Matthew Rosenberg (29 June 2018). "Russians Offered Business Deals to Brexit's Biggest Backer". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  57. ^ Beangstrom, Patsy (27 July 2018). "Brexit bankroller linked to city mines". DFA.
  58. ^ "Exclusive: Court documents claim new Arron Banks links with Russia". Channel 4 News.
  59. ^ "Southern Rock Insurance Company Ltd 2015 accounts | Reinsurance | Audit". Scribd.
  60. ^ "Newsnight – 08/11/2018". BBC iPlayer.
  61. ^ "Newsnight – Arron Banks: Did the Brexit campaigner use offshore money?".

External links[edit]

  • Bastos, M. T., and Mercea, D. (2017). The Brexit Botnet and User-Generated Hyperpartisan News. Social Science Computer Review
  • R. Booth et al., 'Russia used hundreds of fake accounts to tweet about Brexit, data shows' (14 November 2017) Guardian
  • M. Burgess, 'Facebook claims Russia paid for 3 ads around Brexit – costing 73p' (13 December 2017) Wired
  • E. McGaughey, 'Could Brexit be void?' (2018) 29(3) King's Law Journal 331 and Verfassungsblog
  • House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, 'Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report' (July 2018) ch 5, Russian influence in political campaigns
  • US Committee on Foreign Relations, Minority Report, 'Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security' (2018)