8 Mar 2019

The Banks Files: Brexit funder urged campaign to “press it harder” after Jo Cox murder

Despite an agreement by all groups to suspend campaigning in the aftermath of Jo Cox’s death, Arron Banks instructed the social media team at Leave.EU to “boost” an existing sponsored Facebook ad.

Brexit backer Arron Banks urged campaigners to “keep pumping” out material the morning after MP Jo Cox’s murder, Channel 4 News can reveal.

Leaked emails and documents reveal that despite an agreement by all groups to suspend campaigning in the aftermath of her death, the millionaire businessman instructed the social media team at Leave.EU to “boost” an existing sponsored ad on Facebook.

New evidence also reveals that his campaign discussed secretly exerting influence and control over other groups, pumping in cash not properly declared to authorities, in a potential breach of spending laws.

Banks secretly bankrolled Labour’s Eurosceptic movement Labour Leave, funding at least three figures on its executive board, an office and computers. Labour Leave is under investigation by the Electoral Commission.

“Keep pumping”

The emails show that on June 17 2016, the morning after Jo Cox’s death, Arron Banks issued an order to Liz Bilney, the CEO of Leave.EU and other staff:

“Keep pumping the McKenna video”, he says “and up the Spend A”.

Ms Bilney replies: “Yes that’s starting to get traction now and with paid advertising and no active campaigning could get a lot of take up today.”

Arron Banks replies: “Exactly – press it harder.”

He adds later: “Boost it more.. The ban is on new stuff and activity not the sponsored page..”

Referendum campaigners agreed to pause after the murder of Jo Cox 

Jo Cox press release

Channel 4 News can also reveal how a press officer paid by Leave.EU drafted a press release in the name of the outwardly independent Labour Leave campaign group attacking the media for politicising her murder.

Arron Banks approved the release stating: “Much better for them to do it.”

The release, dated 17 June 2016, condemns the media as deplorable for making ‘political mileage for Remain’ from Jo Cox’s death.

“Blackmailing Brexiteers to tone down their campaign is a new low,” it reads.

One Leave.EU figure suggests altering the wording: “I think it also needs more about being a time for showing respect,” he writes… “and drawing unsubstantiated inferences about motive or causes at such a time is disrespectful to Jo Cox’s memory”.

But Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore replies: “NO – don’t need to say this – her husband has already made it political… the tone is about right.”

Labour Leave would later condemn the statement – claiming it had been issued falsely in their name.

Labour MP Alison McGovern told Channel 4 News: “It’s horrific. Watching that makes me feel sick. The day Jo was killed was one of the worst days of my life, and to think a discussion was going on makes me deeply upset.”

The Labour MP Jo Stevens said: “I haven’t got any words to describe how I feel about that. That Brendan (Cox) would make political capital about his wife being murdered on the street, immediately after her death – why would anybody suggest that?”

“It’s horrible, it’s absolutely horrible, and they didn’t abide by the agreement to stop campaigning either, we know that, they carried on. And you know, if anything, they used that situation for their own ends. That, that just tells me it was deliberate, and to do it in response to a voice of reason inside their own camp saying ‘don’t do it’, they’d stoop to anything.”

Funding for other groups

The emails appear to show Arron Banks funnelled hundreds of thousands of pounds into other campaign groups, coordinated campaigning, spending and strategy. None of the groups declared they were working with Leave.EU to the Electoral Commission.

In one email, a colleague of Arron Banks suggested that he could help “a small number of groups… to raise their funding”. The move would take the activities of Leave.EU’s campaign “from a £700K cap to a £5m cap.”

Funding for Ukip

Leave.EU incurred election expenses worth tens of thousands of pounds for Ukip, including organising, designing and funding Nigel Farage’s referendum battle bus to the tune of £67,000.

Staff from Leave.EU were also sent to work on it, and dozens of emails between the two groups discussed aspects of the tour.

However, Ukip and Leave.EU never declared any joint spending.

Ukip declared the bus in their spending return, even though the spending had been initiated, organised and paid for by Leave.EU.

Private jet

Leave.EU also hired a private jet to fly Nigel Farage to a Ukip event in Gateshead and failed to declare the £12,400 spend.

The flight was signed off by Arron Banks, but was never declared to the Electoral Commission.

Ukip told Channel 4 News this was a matter for Nigel Farage, although the paperwork for the flight was addressed to Ukip and Mr Farage was the party’s leader at the time.

Labour Leave

The Banks organisation also funded an office, computers and paid for staff working for Labour Leave, a group that claimed it was “funded and staffed by Labour, Trades Unions and socialist Society members.”

Labour Leave did not declare any donations from Leave.EU or the Banks organisation.

The emails suggest that at least three prominent members of Labour Leave were also paid by Banks’s organisation. They include the former Labour MP and trade minister Nigel Griffiths, Brendan Chilton, the General Secretary of Labour Leave. and the Head of Communications, Olly Huitson.

Mr Huitson and Mr Griffiths told Channel 4 News they had expected the payments to be declared by the relevant organisation.

Mr Huitson said he worked for Labour Leave only and understood that his costs would be treated as a non-cash donation from the Banks organisation. They were not declared.

In an interview, John Mills, the Labour donor who ran Labour Leave, admitted he had failed to properly declare the office costs to the Electoral Commission. But he insisted Labour Leave was an independent organisation, and not controlled or directed in any way by Arron Banks or Leave.EU.

He said: “We were our own people, we ran our own ship, we had our own money. He did not provide any cash for us at all. He may of employed some of the people we did and paid them but they were separate from anything that was authorised expenditure by Labour Leave.”

Channel 4 News can reveal that Labour Leave is under investigation by the Electoral Commission.

Last night, Arron Banks failed to respond to the allegations. Informing Channel 4 News that he was skiing in Italy, he told the programme:

“The length and sheer number of details in the letter means that it will take seven days to respond to your request.” He later revised that to five days.

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