Dark Money Investigations

Whistleblowers say Arron Banks ‘misled’ viewers on BBC Andrew Marr show

Brexit funder said staff working for his controversial Leave campaign were put on different contracts, and declared to elections watchdog. But evidence seen by openDemocracy tells a very different story.

Peter Geoghegan Jenna Corderoy
Peter Geoghegan Jenna Corderoy
5 November 2018

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Arron Banks on Marr, BBC.

Arron Banks has been accused by MPs of “not telling the truth” after whistleblowers told openDemocracy that the Leave.EU founder misled viewers about his controversial Brexit campaign on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.

Banks, who is now under criminal investigation over his £8m Brexit donations, told the BBC that staff at his Eldon Insurance company who worked on his Leave.EU campaign were put on separate contracts. Banks also claimed that this arrangement was declared to the UK’s electoral watchdog, as is required by law.

But interviews with former Eldon staff and documents seen by openDemocracy suggest that employees regularly worked on both Banks’s insurance business and his political campaign. “There were no separate contracts for the Leave work. None at all. You were just told to do that at the same time as working on the insurance business,” a former Eldon staffer told openDemocracy.

The Electoral Commission also said that it "has no record of Leave.EU reporting services it received from Eldon Insurance for the referendum."

Banks has been under pressure to explain the relationship between his insurance business and Leave.EU after openDemocracy revealed that staff worked for both organisations ahead of the Brexit referendum. Any such work in the months before the election should be declared under electoral law, and Mr Banks has repeatedly denied any such work taking place. In June, he told parliament that there was no overlap between Eldon and Leave.EU.

Damian Collins MP, chair of parliament’s inquiry into fake news, said that openDemocracy’s latest revelations show that Banks is “not telling the truth once again”.

““[Banks] was really clear to the committee that Eldon was kept totally separate from Leave.EU but now we have former Eldon employees saying that they worked on both the referendum and for Eldon. Once again it appears that he has not been straight with the answers he gave at the committee,” Collins told openDemocracy.

Potential sharing of voters’ personal data between Leave.EU and Eldon insurance has formed part of an Information Commissioner’s Office investigation, which is due to report Tuesday.

“There are really important issues as well in terms of data protection law and electoral law if staff at an insurance company were simultaneously working on a political campaign which they should not have done. Banks, knowing that they shouldn’t do it, had said publicly that they hadn’t,” said Collins.

'It's just what you were told to do'

openDemocracy has obtained a copy of a contract signed by an Eldon Insurance employee who often worked for Leave.EU. The contract, with a start date just weeks before the referendum, makes no mention of Leave.EU.

The same employee was frequently asked to do Leave.EU work after the date that their contract with Eldon signed, according to emails leaked to openDemocracy. One email states that the employee spent half of their time in June on Leave.EU work.

Another former Eldon employee said that they had also only signed a contract with the insurance company, even though they were frequently asked to work on Leave.EU material in the run-up to the Brexit vote. An Eldon insurance contract signed by a third former staffer makes no mention of working for any Leave campaigns even though emails clearly show that they worked for Leave.EU and other Brexit groups.

“We worked for all the different groups. I worked for Leave and I never had a contract for Leave. It was just what you were told to do,” a source said.

Suspicion of donations from ‘impermissible source’

Last week the National Crime Agency announced that it was investigating Arron Banks and his Leave.EU campaign after the Electoral Commission announced that it had found “reasonable grounds” to believe that Banks’s £8m donations had come from an impermissible source.

Media reports alleged that in early 2016, the then Home Secretary Theresa May declined a request by one of the security services to investigate Arron Banks. In response to a freedom of information request submitted by openDemocracy last month, the Home Office refused to confirm or deny whether they held any relevant material relating to Banks and Leave.EU.

“The most prominent reason to neither confirm nor deny that we hold the information requested is that doing so would impede the future formulation of government policy,” the Home Office said. openDemocracy will be challenging this.

Commenting on openDemocracy’s latest revelations, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: “In his attempts to bluster and obfuscate, Banks only managed to tie himself up further in knots with his contradictory or evasive answers. That is why it is so important that we finally have a proper criminal investigation into this whole matter. It is vital that the NCA devotes sufficient resources to this investigation so it can progress quickly and reassure the public that the 2016 Brexit referendum was not subverted.”

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “During the EU referendum, campaign groups could accept donations – including of services – from permissible companies, and could pay for services.

“The Electoral Commission has no record of Leave.EU reporting services it received from Eldon Insurance for the referendum.”

Arron Banks was approached for comment but has yet to respond.

Update, 24 September 2019: The National Crime Agency has found no evidence that Arron Banks, Elizabeth Bilney, Better for the Country Ltd or Leave.EU committed a crime under electoral or company law. Its investigation related to a referral from the Electoral Commission on 1 November 2018. For more information see the NCA statement here.

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