LONDON (Reuters) – Arron Banks, the person behind one of many principal Brexit campaigns, stated on Tuesday scrutiny of his conferences with the Russian ambassador over a possible business deal had was a “witch hunt” now Britain’s relations with Moscow had soured.
Banks, a businessman who financed Leave.EU, performed down his hyperlinks to Moscow at a listening to earlier than MPs in parliament, saying he had merely handed a phone quantity for President Donald Trump’s transition crew to the UK Russian ambassador.
He stated all contacts with Russia had been disclosed to the U.S. Embassy.
Britain has stated it has seen no proof of Russian interference within the 2016 referendum resolution to go away the European Union.
But as a part of a broader inquiry into so-called faux news MPs on the media committee are investigating whether or not Moscow tried to affect public opinion earlier than the referendum, which has divided Britain and examined the authority of Prime Minister Theresa May as negotiations over the divorce proceed.
Banks stated he had two lunches with the Russian ambassador, who launched him to a businessman who was proposing a posh gold-mining deal in Russia.
But he determined to not pursue the deal, and stated the context of the conferences in 2015 and 2016 was completely different to now, when Britain’s relations with Russia have suffered after Britain accused it of being behind a nerve agent assault on a former Russian spy in England three months in the past.
Russia denies any involvement.
“What I’m saying is we’ve now got a full-scale Russian witch hunt going on. Now, before that all occurred, it was no issue,” he stated of the conferences.
“I’ve got no business interests in Russia and I’ve done no business deals in Russia,” stated Banks, who was pictured with Trump and fellow Brexit backer Nigel Farage at Trump Tower days after the presidential election in November 2016.
The grilling got here after the Sunday Times stated Banks’ contacts with Russia went additional than he had beforehand disclosed.
He stated his visas and passport paperwork confirmed he was not in Moscow in February 2016, because the newspaper had reported, and his affiliate Andy Wigmore informed the committee the e-mail that the report had been based mostly on was a joke.
The MPs are additionally investigating the work of Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy on the centre of a scandal over the misuse of hundreds of thousands of Facebook customers’ information.
Cambridge Analytica, which was employed by Trump in 2016, has denied its work on the U.S. president’s profitable election marketing campaign made use of allegedly improperly harvested information – however questions have since been raised over any function in different votes.
Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica have each stated the political consultancy pitched to its Brexit marketing campaign, however that no work was truly undertaken, a conclusion additionally drawn by Britain’s Electoral Commission’s investigation into the matter.
However, the elections regulator did high quality Leave.EU for breaching marketing campaign finance guidelines. Banks lodged an attraction towards that call on Tuesday, and the MPs stated they’d not ask Banks concerning the case given the continuing authorized course of.
Banks stated that allegations made towards him by former Cambridge Analytica staff and associates had come from folks whom he didn’t regard as credible witnesses.
He stated he did focus on his insurance coverage companies with Cambridge Analytica, in addition to politics, however stated there was no battle in that and reiterated that information from his insurance coverage companies was not utilized by Leave.EU.
On Friday, Banks had criticised members of the committee for being biased towards Brexit, and pulled out of the listening to, earlier than reversing that call after the Sunday Times article.
Wigmore stated the query of whether or not the marketing campaign’s statements about Brexit had been “fake news” was a matter of interpretation.
“Referendums are not about facts, it’s about emotion,” Wigmore stated.
Banks has develop into a bete noire for pro-EU campaigners, who introduced him with pies on his arrival in Westminster. Pork pies is an previous London rhyming slang time period for “lies”, however Banks and Wigmore smiled and posed with the pies earlier than consuming them.
Reporting by Alistair Smout and Sarah Young; Additional reporting by George Sargent; Editing by Stephen Addison and Alison Williams