LONDON (Reuters) – Arron Banks, a British businessman who bankrolled one of many most important campaigns for Brexit, hit again on Sunday after a report stated his hyperlinks with Russia went additional and deeper than he had beforehand disclosed, saying he was a sufferer of a “witch hunt”.
Britain has stated it had not seen proof of Russian interference in its votes, however lawmakers are investigating whether or not the nation tried to affect public opinion earlier than the EU referendum as a part of a broader inquiry into “fake news”.
Banks stated he would inform a committee of lawmakers on Tuesday about his connections with a number of international locations in the course of the referendum marketing campaign.
“It wasn’t just the Russians: we met all sorts of nationalities, we also briefed the State Department in Washington, we also met with the top embassy officials in London,” he advised Reuters.
“So if we are Russian spies, we must be American spies too.”
The Sunday Times, citing emails it obtained from a journalist who labored with Banks on a guide, stated that Banks and his affiliate Andy Wigmore had repeated contact with Russian officers each earlier than and after the referendum marketing campaign.
Banks had beforehand claimed in a guide to have had just one assembly with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s envoy in London, Alexander Yakovenko, in September 2015, however the newspaper stated there have been not less than two additional conferences.
The newspaper additionally stated Yakovenko proposed that Banks and Wigmore turn out to be concerned in a business deal involving Russian gold mines. Banks stated he didn’t revenue from any business offers as a result of he by no means pursued any.
“I have never seen such a conflated story in all my life,” Banks stated.
“Yeah, we had two lunches with the Russian ambassador and passed on a business contact. So what?”
When requested if he ever obtained Russian cash or help for Brexit, Banks laughed: “No, in fact not. You know if I have, I’m nonetheless ready for the cheque.
“This is simply full absolute rubbish – it’s just like the Salem witch hunt. They simply carry on screaming ‘witch’, ‘witch’.”
RIGHT TO KNOW
Banks stated late on Saturday that he and Wigmore would seem earlier than Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s faux news inquiry, reversing a choice to tug out two days in the past.
“We look forward to seeing @DamianCollins & the committee as originally planned,” he stated on Twitter.
Collins, a member of the ruling Conservatives who chairs the committee, stated the general public had a proper to know concerning the relationship between the most important funder of the Leave marketing campaign and Russia.
“It is big news: I think it is very relevant,” he advised BBC tv.
“If the Russian government is seeking to develop relationships with prominent people like Arron Banks (…) we have a right to know what the level of that contact was.”
Supporters of Brexit say pro-Europeans are attempting to undermine the referendum end result with baseless allegations of Russian involvement in order that they will push for a rerun of the vote. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Banks co-founded the Leave.EU marketing campaign that’s credited with mobilising grassroots help for Brexit. Wigmore didn’t reply requests for remark.
Banks will seem earlier than lawmakers in a vital week for the government’s Brexit technique, with Prime Minister Theresa May dealing with a sequence of key votes that might see a rise up by these who need to retain nearer ties with the EU.
May’s Brexit plan will start its most extreme take a look at so far on June 12 when she asks her divided Conservatives to overturn adjustments made to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by parliament’s higher chamber.
Two Conservative lawmakers from opposites facet of the Brexit divide — the pro-Remain former home secretary Amber Rudd and the main Brexit supporter and former occasion chief Iain Duncan Smith — joined collectively on Sunday to induce help for May.
“When it comes to delivering the legislation necessary to make Brexit a smooth and orderly process, we both agree that every Conservative should march in lockstep behind the Prime Minister as she delivers on the vote,” they stated in an article within the Sunday Telegraph.
Editing by Keith Weir and Alexandra Hudson