In April last year, I noted that Arron Banks, the alleged “man who bankrolled Brexit”, who told the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr “Eldon has never given or used any data to Leave.EU. They are separate entities with strong data control rules. And vice versa … Make any mistakes relating to the business and we will be most assuredly coming after the Guardian & you”, was under fire for breaches of data protection law.
Those pertained to the 2016 EU referendum campaign, and the claim that clients of Banks’ Eldon Insurance outfit had been targeted by Leave EU propaganda. The Information Commissioner’s Office investigated, was unimpressed, and declared that it would hit Banksy with a £135,000 fine. Then came a French TV show featuring Leave EU.
The commentary made embarrassing listening for those defending Banks as it told viewers “Leave EU … employs 60 people at this call centre, seven days a week … but the surprise was that the worker [shown] was neither activist nor volunteer … He works in the premises of an insurance company, GoSkippy, and some do it without even being employees … this is the case of Elisabeth Bilney”. Ms Bilney confirmed some in the call centre were working on both Eldon Insurance and Leave EU work. It got worse.
Former employees’ stories merely confirmed the lax attitude: “There were no separate contracts for the Leave work. None at all. You were just told to do that at the same time as working on the insurance business … We worked for all the different groups. I worked for Leave and I never had a contract for Leave. It was just what you were told to do”.
And now has come not only the confirmation that the ICO fine, now £120,000, will indeed be imposed on Banksy and his pals, but that there will also be an audit of data protection policies at both Leave EU and Eldon Insurance. Any attempt to obstruct such an audit is in itself a serious offence, as is concealment or destruction of evidence.
As the Guardian has observed, “The results of that audit, which will include interviewing the directors and staff, will be made public … Leave.EU is already being investigated by the National Crime Agency over a multimillion-pound donation the Electoral Commission believes came from Rock Holdings, one of Banks’s companies that is based in the Isle of Man, and thus not legally allowed to participate in UK elections”.
Banksy is not out of the wood yet. So has he been keeping a low profile? Not a bit of it, as his occasional side-kick Andy Wigmore told earlier: “Good to catch up with @Jacob_Rees_Mogg in Ballymena with @duponline @eastantrimmp and #IanPaisley talking brexit, Irish border, backstop and WTO”. Brexit is good business for some.
Arron Banks broke the law. Yet the referendum is still treated with due reverence, he is still feted by those who hold power - including Sammy Wilson, the Marie Antoinette of East Antrim, as well as the disgraced Ian Paisley Jr. - and courted by the Tory right.
Few kinds of political corruption smell more rank that that. And all the while, Banks has been treated as some kind of media celebrity. That says rather more about the media than it does about him.
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