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Nigel Farage and an ‘Extraordinary Lack of Curiosity’ from UK Government and Intelligence Services Over Possible Russian Interference in Brexit 

“It did strike me as ridiculous that, given the overt nationalism of the Leave.EU campaign, it was involved in discussions with representatives of the Russian Government”

Nigel Farage unveils and discusses UKIP's new 'Breaking Point' poster in June 2016. Photo: Mark Thomas / Alamy

An excerpt from the book Digital Gangsters by Ian Lucas, the former Labour MP who sat on the historic DCMS select committee investigating Russian interference in UK elections

You can read the whole thing here.

‘Breaking Point’ – Nigel Farage’s face projected next to those words in front of a stream of fleeing refugees struck a chord with my voters. That the poster was untrue, showing refugees from Syria, not at all linked to the EU, was irrelevant. It was a compelling message which chimed with the experience of people in Wrexham, who had seen rapid, unmanaged change in their own home.

That was why some of my voters liked Farage. They did not think that the EU was
working for them.

Farage was not just on television. Social media messaging honed the slogans, targeted
their delivery at towns especially affected by migration and built groups where the message was circulated and reinforced by local people.

Farage led the “unofficial” Leave campaign, Leave.EU. Brittany Kaiser of Cambridge
had told the DCMS committee that she had pitched their digital campaigning techniques to Leave.EU.

When Arron Banks of Leave.EU, who worked closely with Farage at the head of that organisation, gave evidence in June 2018, he explained how such techniques had been central to Leave.

Aaron Banks (C), co-founder of the Leave EU campaign and Andy Wigmore (L) the communications director, being pursued through Westminster by pro-EU supporters in March 2019. Photo: Guy Corbishley / Alamy

EU’s approach: “How did the message get out to all these people?” 

“It must have been data. My experience of social media is it is a firestorm that, just like a brush fire, it blows over the thing. Our skill was creating bush fires and then putting a big fan on and making the fan blow. We were prepared to and if you could criticise us for anything—and I am sure you would—we picked subjects and topics that we knew would fly. When we sat back and said, ‘We are going to create this campaign, how do we make it fly?’ what was absolutely clear was you had to figure out what the pressure points were that made things fly and that is what we did.”

Sitting in the Committee Room in the House of Commons, hearing these words, I was chilled by their cynicism.

Banks had made money selling insurance and was using his experience of online
sales, and his staff, to drive the Brexit campaign. His words help explain why their
campaign was so effective.

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It played on the experience of millions of people in the UK, exaggerated those experiences, often with false embellishment, and cut through. In the session I was angry, though I worked hard not to show it. I felt Banks had no interest in the day-to-day problems that were frustrating people in my constituency of Wrexham and which they raised in my office every day.

His scapegoating of the EU as the cause of all their problems was a sleight of hand but was frustratingly successful.

My efforts to point out the positive impact that the EU had had in rebuilding Wrexham’s economy and creating jobs was, on the other hand, falling on stony ground. 

Banks’s arrogance before the Committee was not unexpected. He pandered to his image
of holding MPs in absolute contempt. Banks was accompanied by his colleague Andy Wigmore. Both tried to treat the session as a joke. I made an early decision that I would let
these characters hang themselves.

Broadly, the session conveyed more heat than light. Nonetheless, information was disclosed which became useful later, concerning the detailed structure of Banks’ companies and about meetings that Banks and Wigmore had had with the Russian

I extracted a significant admission from Banks on his meeting with the Russian Ambassador: “I do think Ian is correct in the sense that, if we had not been involved in Brexit, we would obviously not have been invited for lunch.” He appeared to think this was of no consequence.

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There were two main areas of concern for me with these two. First, I was concerned about
illegal, overseas funding of the Referendum campaign, a theme which had worried me from the outset of the Inquiry.

The aggressive responses to me from both Banks and Wigmore whenever I raised these questions only made me more suspicious. As I raised them, I also received aggressive, and apparently organised, messages on my Twitter (now X) feed from unknown sources stating how ridiculous my line of questioning was, again heightening my concerns. 

Secondly, the issue of Russian political interference was important given that we knew from the establishment of the Mueller Commission in the US that it had occurred there. The meetings between Banks and Wigmore and the Russian Embassy were self-evidently linked to the Brexit campaign and would not have taken place, as Banks conceded, if the
two had not been involved in Brexit. It was clearly legitimate to ask about the nature of the
discussions that took place.

It did strike me as ridiculous that, given the overt nationalism of the Leave.EU campaign, it was involved in discussions with representatives of the Russian Government. That Government was, after all, subject to economic sanctions because of its illegal invasion of
the Crimea in 2014 and, by the time of our hearings in 2018, had been involved in nerve-agent attacks on people in Salisbury.

Farage, the public face of Leave.EU, had questions to answer too. In an exchange with Steffen Dobbert of the German news website Zeit Online in May 2017, which Farage
eventually walked out of he was uncomfortable talking about Russian money:

Zeit Online: Who financed your Leave campaign?

Farage: Who financed the whole Remain campaign for over 50 years? The government.

Zeit Online: You didn’t answer the question.

Farage: Individuals. Individuals from the UK.

Zeit Online: And with money from Russia

Farage: No Russian money at all. That’s ridiculous. What you are talking about is conspiracy. I never received a penny from Russia. I wouldn’t have taken it, even if it had been offered. This campaign wasn’t about money. It was about messages, good clear messages.

Zeit Online: Have you ever received external money for your political work?

Farage: No, of course not.

Zeit Online: You never received any money for your appearances on Russia Today?

Farage: Which I do twice a year. Or three times last year. I am doing global media. I
am talking to you as well.

Farage does not say that he did not receive money from Russia Today.

In fact, Farage’s income from media appearances, especially Russia Today, increased massively in the period from 2012 to 2018. He set up a limited company “Thorn in the Side” which had an income recorded at £9,737 in 2012. By May 2018, its income had increased to £548,573.


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In June 2014, Farage’s EU Parliament Office, as a member of the European Parliament, declared his income from media contracts to be between 1001 and 5000 euros gross per month. In December 2016, Farage’s office increased his declared income to between 5001 and 10,000 euros a month.

The Guardian reported in March 2014 that he had by then appeared seventeen times on Russia Today (now RT) since December 2010. In 2016, RT offered Farage his own show, which he appears to have declined.

As the Telegraph reported in September 2016, Farage is said to have discussed several options with the broadcaster, including acting as a roving reporter during the US presidential elections in November (2016). Farage told the Telegraph that he had not agreed to front any programme for the broadcaster.

He said: “I’ve appeared on RT occasionally. They are a broadcaster with an audience. They may well have a political agenda, but you can’t ignore them.” RT has been sanctioned 15 times by Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, often for breaches of impartiality rules.

Interviewed about RT in 2013, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said: “The channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world one way or another.”

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In December 2018, Ofcom found that seven separate broadcasts from RT regarding the
Skripal attacks in Salisbury had broken impartiality rules. Though the UK Government was keen to criticise Russia concerning the Skripal attacks, it was remarkably silent about other interference.

As the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee were ultimately to observe, when their long-delayed Russia Report was finally released in July 2020, there was an extraordinary lack of curiosity from both the UK Government and its intelligence services concerning Russian interference in elections and referendums. Predictably, this lack of interest seemed most closely linked to a determination not to question the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.

Unlike the Mueller Commission in the United States, with the full weight of the Justice
Department behind it, the DCMS Committee simply did not have the powers or resources
to properly investigate these matters. It did not even have the power to compel witnesses
to attend.

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To Banks and Wigmore’s credit, they did at least turn-up, though that credit was dissipated by their histrionic exit when I tried to follow up on overseas donations after the session. The previously cocksure Banks was now uncomfortable.

He complained about the length of time he had been giving evidence, suggested it was longer than he had been told and stood up to leave. In an atmosphere of muddle and confusion, Banks and Wigmore then walked out.

I could see that Banks was very anxious not to return to a detailed discussion with me of his financial affairs. When he and Wigmore left, they met up with Democratic Unionist Party MPs on the House of Commons Terrace, where they ostentatiously drank champagne together. It was hardly a crucial appointment.

Their links to Russia remain unexplained.”

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