Brexit backer told to explain Kremlin links after 'boozy lunches'

Arron Banks

"This is big news, because if the Russian government is seeking to develop relationships with prominent people like Arron Banks - not just a wealthy businessman but someone who's been the biggest private funder of political campaigns in this country, whose funding of Leave.EU played a central role in the build-up to the Brexit referendum and the referendum itself - I think we have a right to know what the level of that contact was, particularly when Mr Banks has sought to deny that", he told BBC1's Sunday Politics.

Banks has also reportedly admitted that he handed over phone numbers for members of Donald Trump's transition team to Russian officials, after meeting with the USA president-elect in November 2016 in NY.

After learning about the allegations on Saturday, Banks and Wigmore announced that they would not appear before MPs to answer questions as part of an inquiry into fake news.

E-mails said to reveal the extent of the men's contacts with Russians were unveiled by journalist Isabel Oakeshott who ghostwrote Mr Banks' referendum memoir.

The scale of the pair's links to Russian Federation is revealed in a series of 40,000 emails obtained by the former Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote Mr Banks's Bad Boys of Brexit book.

The head of the parliamentary inquiry into "fake news", Conservative MP Damian Collins, said the report raised serious questions about Russian interference in United Kingdom politics.

Banks gave around £9 million to the Leave.EU campaign and Grassroots Out Brexit campaign, and used to fund the UK Independence Party under the leadership of his friend, Nigel Farage.

"Russia has a track record of interfering in the politics of other countries".

Banks dismissed the leaked emails on Sunday evening, telling the Guardian: "I am not involved in Russian espionage". It does it in a variety of ways.

Damian Collins
GETTYCulture and Media Committee chairman Damian Collins

Banks and his ally, Wigmore, made repeated contact with Russian officials before the referendum to discuss business opportunities.

They were also said to have met Alexander Udod, one of 23 suspected Russian intelligence officers ejected from the United Kingdom after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

The report is based on a series of emails leaked to the Sunday Times by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote Banks' account of the European Union referendum, titled "The Bad Boys of Brexit".

The paper quoted Andy Wigmore, a close associate of Banks who was present at the meeting, as saying that they did not offer "any information to (the ambassador) or any Russian any details of our campaign".

She came forward after her email accounts were hacked, according to the newspaper.

"It's a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump".

He told the paper nothing came of their discussions over the gold mine deal.

"We actually saw the suits from the American embassy who introduced us to the State Department to explain what had happened and then we briefed the Americans on our meetings with the Russians", he said.

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