Brexit bloodletting: A startlingly candid diary by the tycoon who helped bankroll Leave reveals the …

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at 2016.10.31
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Brexit bloodletting: A startlingly candid diary by the tycoon who helped bankroll Leave reveals the …

  • Businessman Arron Banks was one of the architects of the Brexit campaign
  • He details this campaign in his new book The Bad Boys Of Brexit 
  • He joined the cause in July last year at the request of Ukip’s Nigel Farage
  • Owns a bank in the Isle of Man and several diamond mines in South Africa 

Tony Rennell for the Daily Mail

Just when you thought there was nothing new to say about how the EU referendum was won and lost, along come the rumbustious diaries of belligerent multi-millionaire businessman Arron Banks — one of the chief architects of the Brexit campaign.

Tony Rennell leafs through their pages, overflowing with venom and farce, to uncover the often hilarious truth about what went on behind the scenes of the Leave movement…

Outside the world of Westminster and big business, few people will have heard of Arron Banks, but his influence on the outcome of June’s in-out vote could not have been more crucial.

A roguish, larger-than-life multi-millionaire based in Bristol, he came swashbuckling into the Brexit campaign in July last year at the request of beleaguered Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Banks seized the opportunity with relish.

Outside the world of Westminster and big business, few people will have heard of Arron Banks (right), but his influence on the outcome of June¿s in-out vote could not have been more crucial. Pictured with Ukip's Nigel Farage 

Outside the world of Westminster and big business, few people will have heard of Arron Banks (right), but his influence on the outcome of June’s in-out vote could not have been more crucial. Pictured with Ukip’s Nigel Farage 

A fervent believer in the benefits to Britain of leaving the EU, he made it clear he was prepared to put his money where his mouth was. He would pitch in several million pounds — small beer for a tycoon said to be worth well over £100 million.

He’d made that wealth from the insurance business, beginning as a junior underwriter at Lloyd’s before branching out on his own. Starting with just a desk and two phones, he went on to make a fortune.

These days he also owns a bank in the Isle of Man as well as several diamond mines in South Africa.

Banks, 50, has nothing but contempt for politicians as a breed, and believes most of the population feel the same.

Instinctively confrontational, the sort of troublemaker who can’t see a lawn without gleefully parking his tanks on it, during the referendum battle, he fell out with virtually everyone, from the space agency Nasa (who po-facedly accused him of using a quote from astronaut Tim Peake out of context) to Victoria Beckham. He didn’t care.

It goes without saying that those in the Remain campaign were appalled by him. To them, he was the devil incarnate, denounced as a racist and a bigot.

But influential political figures in the Leave camp also virulently opposed to him, even though they were ostensibly on the same side as him and wanting the same result.

Get back in your box and leave it to the professionals, was their snooty message when he came on the scene. ‘Get lost’ was the polite version of his response.

Banks dismisses Nigel Lawson as ¿a waxwork from a dusty crypt'

He says Chris Grayling, the then Leader of the House is the ¿greyest of the grey¿

Banks dismisses Nigel Lawson (left) as ‘a waxwork from a dusty crypt’ and Chris Grayling (right), the then Leader of the House as the ‘greyest of the grey’

‘These guys are political to the core and don’t give a flying f*** about anyone who doesn’t hang out at the Cinnamon Club, that fancy curry house in Westminster. We should not let them drag us down.’

In his eyes, he had two great virtues that they lacked. The first was a clear-sighted instinct for what mattered to real people, rather than to the politicians they had come to distrust after years of being ignored on what they, and he, saw as the key issue — controlling immigration.

The second was that he was not afraid to tell it as it was. No holding back or pussy-footing.

That is abundantly clear in his rollicking, raucous and irreverent diaries. They show that the referendum campaign was at times so chaotic and farcical as to make a Carry On film look seriously grown up.

His attacks on politicians in the Leave campaign are so wickedly scathing you can’t help but laugh. He dismisses Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor under Thatcher and regarded by many as Leave’s intellectual heavyweight — as ‘a waxwork from a dusty crypt — where did they dig him up?’

Chris Grayling, the then Leader of the House, now Transport Secretary, is the ‘greyest of the grey’ who sends Banks into ‘a mini coma’. William Hague is a ‘flop’ as Foreign Secretary, and as for Boris Johnson, Banks is contemptuously dismissive: ‘Not a real Brexiteer. This is an In-or-Out situation; Shake-It-All-About isn’t on the ballot paper.’

Banks pulls no punches and offers no olive branches. Everyone gets a good kicking as his diaries lay bare the bitter infighting among the Leave camp.

Mainstream Leavers were hell-bent on downplaying two issues — immigration and Farage. They saw both as divisive and wanted them air-brushed out of the campaign. But to Banks, they were sure-fire vote-winners.

Referring to Boris Johnson, Banks says: ¿Not a real Brexiteer. This is an In-or-Out situation; Shake-It-All-About isn¿t on the ballot paper'

Referring to Boris Johnson, Banks says: ‘Not a real Brexiteer. This is an In-or-Out situation; Shake-It-All-About isn’t on the ballot paper’

And so began a bitter battle for the heart and soul of the Brexit campaign, in which he deployed what he freely confessed to be ‘mischief, mayhem and guerrilla warfare’ at every turn to achieve victory for what he believed was right for the people of Britain.

He was deliberately ‘blunt, edgy and controversial’ in making his case. He planned Brexit The Movie, a Brexit rock concert and stunts galore — anything to create a stir. His team took every opportunity to send out mischievous tweets winding up the opposition.

But he was also well-organised and business-like in signing up support for his organisation, Leave.EU, through new media such as Facebook and Twitter as well as Press and TV. He set up call-centres to poll and persuade, being practical, not just posturing.

Meanwhile, he was fending off enemies from within the Leave campaign, beginning notably with Douglas Carswell, the only remaining Ukip MP after the 2015 general election, who had defected from the Tories and was for ever having nasty spats with Farage.

Banks believed Carswell was not a genuine ‘Kipper’ but essentially a Tory plant keeping tabs on what Ukip was up to and trying to deflect it from creating too much mischief.

He claims Carswell defected to Ukip only after the promise of ‘a hefty sum of money’ from Ukip as compensation (with a guarantee also that his family would be ‘looked after’) if, in the ensuing by-election he lost the Clacton seat which he’d held for many years as a Tory.

Carswell, in the event, won in Ukip colours, but, Banks added: ‘He’s been nothing but a pain in the backside since’.

He also claims that Carswell, who had access to top-secret Ukip polling information, leaked it to the Conservatives.

Carswell has denied the allegation, saying: ‘There is no basis in these claims whatsoever.’ The two men clashed spectacularly at a Ukip conference and Banks mischievously briefed the Press that Carswell was probably autistic (for which he later apologised).

Nor did relations improve when Carswell’s name was ludicrously linked to a sensational newspaper story about a supposed attempt to assassinate Farage by loosening the wheel nuts of his car. Naturally, it was utterly unfounded.

On the political front, Carswell was chief among those Leavers insisting that Farage was an embarrassment and should keep his head below the parapet.

So too did Vote Leave, an organisation set up by Matthew Elliott, a seasoned political networker and Whitehall/Westminster insider, to be the principal mouthpiece of the Leave campaign.

Elliott believed focusing on immigration would drag the campaign into a fatal row about racism and xenophobia. He wanted to soft-pedal on this, making sovereignty the dominant issue of the referendum instead. Banks totally disagreed, but nonetheless invited Elliott for drinks at his exclusive Mayfair club to discuss how they could work together. 

His ‘friendly tango’, as he put it, was fobbed off. Soon after, Elliott announced he had £6 million-worth of backing and had lined up the support of seven Cabinet ministers.

‘Like that’s going to excite the average voter,’ was Banks’s sarcastic riposte, a clear indication of the division between him and what he reckoned was just a group of Tory toffs with no appeal to the grassroots electorate. He was afraid they were going to blow the once-in-a-lifetime chance the Referendum gave of actually exiting the EU. He refused to bow out.

From that moment, Banks’s Leave.EU and Vote Leave were in a no-holds-barred mud-wrestling competition to be Brexit top dog.

Banks thought his rivals were pedestrian, over-cautious and chaotic, with a lame message that wouldn’t wash. ‘P***-up and brewery come to mind,’ was his scathing verdict.

When discussing Victoria Beckham, he says: 'She¿s threatening to sue. She can join the queue'

When discussing Victoria Beckham, he says: ‘She’s threatening to sue. She can join the queue’

By contrast, he says in his diary, his team were hitting nearly 20 million people in a week, a third of the population, using social media.

‘We were creating an extraordinary mass movement, drawing in swathes of voters neglected by the main political parties.’ He was willing to court anyone and everyone — Labour supporters, trade unions and even old Lefties like Derek Hatton, the one-time Militant firebrand from Liverpool, on the grounds that ‘the EU is bad for workers’ rights’.

All the while, relations with Elliott’s Vote Leave were growing increasingly toxic, the war between them dirtier by the day.

Computers on both sides were said to have been hacked. Banks claimed he was being tailed by a private investigator and warned Elliott to watch out.

‘I have a business that specialises in personal security and counter intelligence, using ex-MI5 and SAS operatives . . .’ He might have added that he had a Russian wife, Katya, who speaks six languages and once faced suggestions that she might be a spy.

Banks’s up-yours response to this allegation was to buy a personalised number plate for the family Range Rover: ‘XMI5 SPY’.

Funny incidents verging on farce run through his diary. He convenes a meeting of Ukip supporters at his country estate on the outskirts of Bristol (Old Down, which he bought in 2008 from musician Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame) and veteran MEP Margot Parker trips and falls into the swimming pool in full billowing evening regalia.

‘There was a tremendous crash and we all turned to see a thrashing lump under the plastic cover.’ She was hauled out before she drowned.

Then there’s the moment when Farage has to be rescued from a sauna by an aide who physically fights off a local photographer trying to take a sneaky snap of the Ukip leader’s ‘tackle’.

And a meeting, last November, at the private residence of the Russian ambassador in London, keen for the inside track on Brexit, where Banks and sidekick Andy (Wiggy) Wigmore quaff vodka from a special batch of three bottles supposedly made exclusively for Stalin.

After hours of talk and drink, says Banks, everyone was quite merry and diplomatic protocols were falling by the wayside. The ambassador revealed that he’d recently had a discussion with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond which had left him deeply unimpressed because Hammond had told him Britain had no Plan B for Syria.

On their way out the ambassador gave them a gift of specially blended tea. ‘I hope it’s not radioactive,’ mused Banks.

At times, being catapulted into this new world of power-brokers and celebrities became too much.

At a star-studded reception in Washington, an over-excited and ogling ‘Wiggy’ tried to grab ‘selfies’ on his mobile phone — only for Helen Mirren to fob him off with a disdainful twitch of the nose and a Victoria’s Secret model in a slinky red dress to turn on her heel, ‘leaving him staring forlornly at her perky derrière’.

On a more serious note in Washington, an appalled Banks discovered during a meeting with a senior official of the State Department that the U.S. had ‘no contingency plan for relations with the EU if we vote to leave.’ Apparently the British government had told the Americans not to bother. ‘They say Brexit can’t possibly happen, so not to worry about it.’

In between all this political jet-setting, Banks somehow found time and energy to carry on his normal life to the full — flying off to check his diamond mines in South Africa and chancing on an eight-carat sparkler. To Kenya on a 2,500-mile car rally in a beat-up banger. And to Switzerland – ‘No sign of the EU here and the Swiss seem to be coping just fine’ – for skiing with his family. (He has five children, three still living at home.)

Back home, for all the flamboyance of his campaigning and his f***-you attitude to his critics, on serious issues, he stood his ground.

Accusations that he was a racist angered him ‘I take massive exception to this,’ he declares. ‘I fund multiple charities in South Africa, focusing on women and child poverty, and numerous educational bursaries.’ He was hurt by ‘these slurs’ and threatened to sue.

The Ukip donor calls Nicholas Soames (pictured) a 'fat Tory foghorn' and 'a pompous old bore whose blind Europhilia would make [EU chief] Juncker blush' 

The Ukip donor calls Nicholas Soames (pictured) a ‘fat Tory foghorn’ and ‘a pompous old bore whose blind Europhilia would make [EU chief] Juncker blush’ 

As for the charge of being anti-immigrant, he replied that it was uncontrolled immigration he was against, not immigrants per se, given that his own wife is Russian. He also took umbrage at the suggestion that Leavers like him wanted to ‘leave Europe’. Not true, he insisted.

Britain was geographically and culturally part of Europe, and that was fine. It was the ‘political construct’ he wanted out of.

But the mud stuck. Despite piling up support, Banks lost the contest to be recognised as the official Leave organisation to oppose Remain. The Electoral Commission chose Elliott’s rival Vote Leave over his organisation.

He was furious, seeing it as an Establishment stitch-up. ‘We’ve been shafted,’ he complains. ‘It’s political corruption.’

And to drown his sorrows he went off on an almighty drinking session, ‘last stop a sleazy gay bar in Soho, the only place still open for business at 5am. I finally staggered back to Claridge’s at six.’

Back home, for all the flamboyance of his campaigning and his f***-you attitude to his critics, on serious issues, he stood his ground 

Back home, for all the flamboyance of his campaigning and his f***-you attitude to his critics, on serious issues, he stood his ground 

Farage argued that he should accept the decision and give up his separate campaign. Banks refused, insisting that Leave.EU would not quit the field. ‘In a way, we can be even more powerful now. We don’t have to pander to Cabinet ministers and can run the campaign the way we want.

‘Official approval is not our style anyway. Let the insiders stick together. We’re on the outside, where we belong.’

And so Banks and his Leave.EU organisation carried on just as before — buoyed up by David Cameron’s failure to negotiate a decent deal for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

He was scathing about Cameron. ‘He’s back from Brussels but he didn’t even produce a hat, never mind a rabbit. He’s trying to claim we now have some kind of special status, but he’s got nothing, and he knows it. If he thinks this will win it for Remain, I want to know what he’s been smoking.’

As the campaign reached its climax, Banks was confident of victory, despite the fact that his Brexit movie bombed and his rock concert — which in his wildest fancy he’d seen as featuring Duran Duran, Shirley Bassey and Michael Caine arriving on stage in a Mini to The Who blasting out ‘We’re not gonna take it any more’ — never happened.

What mattered, however, was crosses on ballot papers, and the figures of signed-up support he was seeing stacked up. So did the feedback from all over the country.

Come June 23, Referendum Day, however, Farage was gloomy. ‘We’re going to lose. I can feel it in my waters,’ he kept saying.

This was typical Farage, who worried constantly that Banks had gone too far with some caper or other and might offend people unnecessarily. In one headline-grabbing event the week before, a fleet of fishing boats sailed up the Thames to demonstrate for Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament. There they were ambushed by a flotilla of Remainers led by a foul-mouthed Bob Geldof.


Victoria Beckham

Former Spice Girl turned fashion designer

‘We’ve upset Posh Spice. Quite a coup. Her hubby David Beckham put out a wishy-washy statement backing Remain but Wiggy (Bank’s business associate) remembered how much mileage the Spice Girls made out of the Union Jack during their Cool Britannia days.

‘So he dredged up an interview Posh had given in 1996 saying: “The Euro bureaucrats are destroying every bit of national identity and individuality. We must keep our national individuality.”

‘We fired the quotes straight back at her, adding the caption: “Should have listened to the missus, David.”

‘Within minutes, her people were on to us, sniffing that we’d been twisting her views. They put out a statement accusing us of trying to put a spin on quotes made 20 years ago and saying she believes “in a future for her children where we are stronger together”.

‘Brooklyn and co [the Beckham children] are not exactly going to struggle for a crust or two, so I’m not sure why she’s dragged them into it. She’s threatening to sue. She can join the queue.’

Chris Grayling

Leave supporter and Leader of the House during the referendum campaign, now Transport Secretary

‘He has the same effect on me as one of those Dementors from Harry Potter — I can feel all the life just draining right out of me. I did my level best not to show that being in his presence was easing me little by little into a mini-coma.’

Nicholas Soames

Conservative MP

‘That fat Tory foghorn has come out and said his grandfather Winston Churchill would have been appalled by the campaign to leave the EU. He’s been telling people his ancestor was “a profound believer in the values of European cooperation”.

‘What tosh. Soames is a pompous old bore whose blind Europhilia would make [EU chief] Juncker blush. The only thing he and his fine ancestor have in common is their waistline.’

During this confrontation, Banks recalls, Farage was on board but hid below in case it all backfired. That day, ‘the Nelson touch distinctly failed him’, Banks records, whereas he himself was dancing with joy.

‘Salty Sea Dogs 3, Sneering Softies 0. We’d won a mass of free publicity and put fun and energy into a great cause.’And now it was crunch time. This is where it had all been going.

The polling stations were open. The nation was making up its mind. Banks tried to gee up Farage with his latest polling figures, but ‘years of political disappointment had conditioned him to expect the worst. He didn’t dare to believe it could be different this time’.

Just before the polls closed Farage told Sky News: ‘I think Remain just edged it.’ He was wrong. Six hours later, as Banks had predicted, Leave had won.

Banks savoured his victory, and bit back at the disgruntled losing Remain camp. ‘These elites are shrieking because they can feel the power slipping away from them. Enough already!’

He dedicates his book ‘To the 17.4 million’—– those who voted Out. But, from his account, you can’t help wondering if a more united Leave front might not have produced a far bigger number.

As for what happens next, he sets out his stall as unequivocally as he did for the referendum itself.

‘My view is simple: we should stay tariff-free and let the EU do what they want, then introduce an immigration cap of 50,000 with a £5,000 deposit from all newcomers. Britain’s economy would explode. We’d be Singapore on steroids.’

  • The Bad Boys Of Brexit: Tales Of Mischief, Mayhem And Guerrilla Warfare In The EU Referendum Campaign by Arron Banks is published by Biteback Publishing at £18.99. To buy a copy for £14.24 (offer valid until this Saturday) visit or call 0844 571 0640 P&P is free on orders over £15.

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Published at Sun, 30 Oct 2016 23:29:10 +0000

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