POLITICS

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw Calls For Probe Into 'Dark Money' Of Brexit Referendum

Arron Banks' donation to Leave.EU was the biggest in British political history.

19/10/2017 21:00 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 11:55 BST
Andrew Yates / Reuters
Arron Banks, the man who bankrolled Brexit

The Government must investigate what role “dark money” played in the Brexit referendum, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has said. 

There is “widespread concern over foreign and particularly Russian interference in western democracies”, Bradshaw told the House of Commons, and “real questions” over how much Arron Banks - the entrepreneur who bankrolled Brexit - is worth. 

Bradshaw called a series of reports by Open Democracy probing the funding streams of the Brexit campaign “very worrying”.

Banks has called the report “fake news” and “a piece of nonsense”. 

Bradshaw claimed an “illegal” donation was made via the DUP. The person behind the £435,000 payment made in 2016 in the party’s name before the referendum remains a mystery.

Rules have since changed to introduce greater transparency, but it is unclear who – or what – lay behind these funds.

Banks, who says he gave almost £9m in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes, has previously claimed he is worth £100m.

The money given by Banks to Leave.EU, the non-official campaign for Brexit, was the biggest donation in British political history. 

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Labour MP Ben Bradshaw wants an investigation into the funding behind the Brexit referendum

The Sunday Times has estimated his fortune at around £250m. The Open Democracy analysis, however, claims the figure could be much lower. 

Bradshaw asked the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, if she had seen the reports “about the role of dark money in the EU referendum campaign”. They included “revelations of illegal donations” and “new questions today over the real wealth of Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Leave”.

Bradshaw urged parliament and the Electoral Commission to examine the claims “very carefully”. Given recent accusations that the Kremlin role has influenced other elections, they should “reassure the country that all the resources spent in the referendum were from permissible sources”, he told MPs. 

The Open Democracy analysis states Banks’s financial affairs were faltering in 2013. His underwriting business Southern Rock was under scrutiny from financial regulators in Gibraltar and had reserves below what was required, it added. Banks said he invested £40m in the business to plug any shortfall and resigned as a director.

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Arron Banks (left) with UKIP leader Nigel Farage the day after the Brexit vote

“A year later, these financial worries seem to have completely evaporated. Banks had begun buying diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies, and most famous of all – funding Ukip, said Open Democracy. 

The article added: “One question remains though. If Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?”

Banks could have obtained the extra funds by legitimate means, Open Democracy added. Much of his wealth is held in offshore jurisdictions, however, including Belize, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar. 

Banks’s spokesman has previously described his businesses including Southern Rock as profitable, and that the businessman “broadly agrees” with the £250m estimate of his fortune.

Leadsom said Bradshaw’s question was “incredibly important” and any specific information concerning wrongdoing should be referred to the Electoral Commission.

“I absolutely share his concern that all donations should be permissible and legal,” she said.