Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum

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Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum concerns the evidence and ongoing investigation[1] by the UK Electoral Commission, the UK Parliament's Culture Select Committee, and the US Senate, on alleged Russian interference in the "Brexit" poll of 23 June 2016.[2] This has raised questions over the legal validity of the Brexit 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] In March 2016, 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.[5]

After the vote[edit]

  • October 2017, Members of Parliament in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee demanded that Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media corporations, to disclose all adverts and details of payments by Russia in the Brexit campaign.[8]
  • January 2018, a US Senate minority report suggested possible ways Russia may have influenced the Brexit campaign.[12] It stated,[13]
  • 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.[14][not in citation given]
  • 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.[15]
  • 20 September, AggregateIQ, a Canadian political consultancy and analytics company, receives the first 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."[16]
  • November 2018, a criminal investigation of Banks was launched after the Electoral Commission 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."[17]

Questions about Arron Banks's funding[edit]

Banks was the largest donor to the Brexit campaign. Prior to the donations, Southern Rock, Banks's underwriting company was technically insolvent and needed to find £60m to meet regulations.[18] It was saved by a £77m cash injection, mostly in September 2015 from another company, ICS Risk Solutions which Banks claimed to own when questioned by MP Rebecca Pow, though it seems from company filings that he doesn't own all of it.[19]

At the time Louise Kentish of a company called STM joined the board and the day after the referendum her husband Alan Kentish, CEO of STM and two other STM people joined the board.[20] STM specialises in opaque wealth management using trusts and similar.[20]

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.[21][22]

Also according to his South African business partner 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]."[23]

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.[24][25][20][26]

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.[27][28]

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. ^ E. McGaughey, 'Could Brexit be void? (2018) SSRN.
  4. ^ S. Rosenberg, ‘EU referendum: What does Russia gain from Brexit?’ (26 June 2016) BBC News
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ Highly probable' that Russia interfered in Brexit referendum, Labour MP says' (13 December 2016) Independent
  7. ^ J. Kanter and A. Bienkov, 'Labour MPs think the government is hiding info about Russia interfering with Brexit' (23 February 2016) Business Insider
  8. ^ 'MPs order Facebook to hand over evidence of Russian election meddling' (24 October 2017) Telegraph
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Democratic Congressmen request information about possible Russian interference in "Brexit" vote (12 December 2017).
  11. ^ M. Burgess, 'Facebook claims Russia paid for 3 ads around Brexit – costing 73p' (13 December 2017) Wired
  12. ^ P. Wintour, 'Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report' (10 January 2018) Guardian
  13. ^ US Committee on Foreign Relations, Minority Report, 'Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security' (2018)
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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. See also, E. McGaughey, 'Could Brexit be void? (2018) SSRN.
  16. ^ Baraniuk, Chris (20 September 2018). "Vote Leave data firm hit with first ever GDPR notice". BBC News. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  17. ^ "Electoral Commission | Report on investigation into payments made to Better for the Country and Leave.EU". www.electoralcommission.org.uk.
  18. ^ "We need to talk about where Brexit funder Arron Banks gets his money". openDemocracy. 17 April 2018.
  19. ^ "What we learned about Arron Banks at the fake news inquiry". openDemocracy. 12 June 2018.
  20. ^ a b c "Arron Banks and Brexit's offshore secrets". openDemocracy. 12 April 2018.
  21. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (16 June 2018). "Arron Banks, Brexit and the Russia connection". The Guardian.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "Exclusive: Court documents claim new Arron Banks links with Russia". Channel 4 News.
  24. ^ "Electoral Commission | Report on investigation into payments made to Better for the Country and Leave.EU". www.electoralcommission.org.uk.
  25. ^ "Southern Rock Insurance Company Ltd 2015 accounts | Reinsurance | Audit". Scribd.
  26. ^ "We need to talk about where Brexit funder Arron Banks gets his money". openDemocracy. 17 April 2018.
  27. ^ "Newsnight - 08/11/2018". BBC iPlayer.
  28. ^ "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) SSRN, 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)