Now out of Ukip the party he bankrolled Arron Banks is creating a political movement of his own. We gratified the bad boy of Brexit just before article 50 was triggered and observed his ambitions go far beyond leaving Europe

It is five days before article 50 is triggered, and Im sitting in the sunshine outside a saloon in Islington with the person who is bankrolled Brexit. If victory lies with anyone this weekend, it maybe lies with Arron Banks.

Though Nigel Farage is the face of Brexit, Arron Banks is the man who attained it possible. He bought Brexit. Or at least pay money it. Until 2014 he was an unknown Bristol businessman. Now hes the biggest political donor in British political history. The most powerful. He set more money into funding the Leave campaign than anyone else more than 7m. He donated his office space, his computer equipment, his senior staff. Hes the co-founder of Leave.EU, the so-called provisional wing of the Leave campaign, spearheaded by his close confidantes Nigel Farage, and hes now contemplating his next move: taking an axe to the rest of the parliamentary system.

He merely began pouring his money into politics in earnest in 2014 with a splashy donation to Ukip but hes now out of the party and in the throes of creating a new motion. In his sights: the seats of more than 100 Remain MPs. Although, hes not partisan hes aiming to dislodge all bad MPs.( Bad MPs being, as far as I can make out, anyone from Oxford PPE-ists to people hes had a spat with on Twitter .) He tells me hes working with Steve Hilton, David Camerons former head of strategy, to come up with a points system that grades them on their awfulness, and from that hell devise a target listing of the most hated people.

It lies in the fact that defining phenomenon of our age: a grassroots movement money and built by a multimillionaire. And, potentially, the next political earthquake. Taking us out of Europe was merely step one of the big interruption, it turns out. Next up: the party political system, and the extermination of the traditional boundaries between left and right.

And if that sounds like a stretch, well, weve been here before. Banks has the money, the drive and, as weve latterly come to realise, the connections. He and his business partner, Andy Wigmore, together with Nigel Farage and Raheem Kassam, the editor of Breitbart London, are the self-styled bad sons of Brexit. Theyre key partners in a transatlantic alliance, the depth and extent of which is only now, slowly, coming into the illuminate. An alliance that has been cultivated for years by Steve Bannon, Donald Trumps chief strategist.

The sun is shining. Douglas Carswell, Ukips only MP and Bankss mortal adversary, had just resigned from the party. Banks intends to stand against him and beat him; he plays to win in the next general election. He has just been on the phone with Farage, who he says is cockahoop. Everything is going precisely to plan.

The needle on public opinion has changed so far now. And trying to switching it back is as hard as it was for us to change it the other route. Theres people protesting, all the rest of it. But the fact is, theyre not going to transformation public opinion. It has changed. It is what it is. Its permanent.

Its hard to argue with this theory of permanent revolution. And part of it a big component, he enjoys telling me was playing and beating the media at its own game. As industrialists, we sat down with a clean sheet of paper and said, How do we beat these people? And then we figured out how the mainstream media works how they operate and we turned it back on them.

We worked out how to take their outrage, how to take their ache in your lawsuit and feed it back into the system. You know we spent 12 -1 4m on the campaign? And we calculated what our column inches and Tv coverage was worth. It was over 150 m.

All of which induces me wonder: what exactly is the game hes playing here , now? A month ago I interviewed Andy Wigmore, Leave.EUs director of communications, and as a result of what he revealed to me, the Electoral Commission is now investigating whether Leave.EU should have declared the donation of services by a company largely owned by Robert Mercer, the billionaire who bankrolled Trump, and who works closely with Steve Bannon.

Bankss autobiography, The Bad Boys of Brexit , was written for him in the Jeremy Clarkson style, and the whole esthetic is Top Gear . A plenty of people portray Farage, Banks and Wigmore as the three stooges: Clarkson, James May and the Hamster( Richard Hammond ), the jolly chumps who more or less accidentally took the country out of Europe. But thats not my view. Theyre smart, and in triangulation with Bannon there has been a huge amount of strategy and crucially an understanding of technology behind everything theyve done. This just is like the next stage. Ukip was the host body, and now theyre pupating.

Andy
Andy Wigmore celebrates with Arron Banks in Westminster on 24 June 2016, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU. Photograph: Ben Cawthra/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Whatevs, says Banks when I bring up the Electoral Commission. I dont give a monkeys what the Electoral Commission says.

To be clear, the Electoral Commission rules arent guidelines for the tombola at the village fete. Hes talking about UK electoral law. Electoral statute that Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, says isnt fit for intent. Tambini met with the regulators and other parties and theyve joined forces-out this week to call for a parliamentary commission to urgently review it.

Modern online campaigning has basically changed everything, Tambini tells me. And the existing framework is utterly weak and helpless. The cost of building databases, money poured into third-party campaigns, offshore spending these were either largely or totally unregulated. There is no longer any way, with current legislation, of guaranteeing a free and fair election.

Or as Banks sets it: We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.

He didnt break the law, he says. He pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war. And subsequently: Youre looking for a smoking gun but theres a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!

Banks is a gambler: both calculated and reckless. Its his option to do the interview in the tavern. His to get stuck into the wine. He likes the thrill of this, the game. And he likes winning more. His main business is insurance, and calculating the odds then beating them is what he does. Brexit: a 7m gamble that was what? An investment? And if so, into what?

A brave new Brexit world, obviously, but theres also this new motion hes airing for the first time. He has policy ideas that are either radical or nuts, maybe both( selling off all government property to create a monarch wealth fund to bankroll new housing ). Hes indicating things that are genuinely innovative in the turgid world of UK politics: looking to young people; taxing old, wealthy people.

But theres some other agenda in play, too. And moments into my first question, about Trump, he has segued. We had no Russian money into Brexit, he says. Ive had two very nice lunches with the Russian ambassador, where Andy and I got entirely pissed. And thats it. Why wouldnt you? Why wouldnt I go and have lunch with him? Wed fulfilled diplomats and all sorts of different people. Not a single penny of Russian money has been put into Brexit.

Which would be a perfectly reasonable answer, if he had been asked if Russia had set fund into Brexit. But he hadnt. He asked and answered his own topic. I know about his six-hour lunches at the Russian embassy , not least because he makes a phase of writing about one of them in The Bad Boys of Brexit . Its Trumps links to Russia, Im asking about , not his, but he brings it immediately around to himself. Or to be more accurate, he makes an equivalency between them. Come on! he says when I ask him what he makes of the accusations against Trump. Ive got a Russian spouse. I got an early taste of it about six years ago when the Daily Mail put her on the front page and called her a Russian spy.

Hes referring to an incident in 2010 before anyone knew who he was, when his wife, Katya Banks formerly Ekaterina Paderina came up in conjunction with a court case involving a suspected Russian snoop. She was on the front page as a Russian spy! I was killing myself. It was very funny.

What happened was this: a 64 -year-old MP for Portsmouth, Mike Hancock, who was on the Commons defense select committee, provoked a four-year affair with another Ekaterina, the striking 24 -year-old Ekaterina Zatuliveter, whom he met in St Petersburg and later attained his researcher. MI5 believed she was working for Russian intelligence and applied to the Home office to deport on the grounds of national security. She appealed and her lawsuit was brought before the Special Immigration Appeal Commission.

Some of the evidence was held behind closed doors but the judgment is full and detailed, and utterly compelling read. She had previously had an affair with a senior Nato official and a Dutch envoy. And MI5 disclosed that they had advised Hancock that he may be being targeted by foreign agents he had had a string of Russian and east European girlfriends.

The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, heard all the evidence, including an extract from Zatuliveters diary, which she had stated in her original evidence that she didnt have( she produced it on the first day of the trial, saying she had forgotten about it) and ruled in her favour, concluding that she was an immature young lady with an understandable crush on an older man. In summary, he wrote: We cannot exclude the possibility that we have been gulled but, if we have been, it has been by a supremely competent and rigorously developed operative.

Bankss wife, Katya, comes into the story because, according to follow-up reports in several newspapers, she also had links to Hancock before she met and married Banks. Her first husband in a wedding of simply three months was a retired merchant seaman, Eric Butler. The Home Office suspected it was a marriage of convenience and tried to deport her, at which point she wrote to her local MP, Hancock, for help. Butler told reporters that he had discovered them looking very cosy in the conservatory.

I ask Banks: Did you know about that bit of history before the story came out?

I knew that she had been in, lived in Portsmouth and I knew yeah, I knew broadly the kind of, you know, thing.

What do you entail?

Well, broadly the fact that she had writes to her local MP and various other things.

That her ex-husband had said hed detected her and Hancock together?

Well, you know, thats the evil of an ex-husband or spouse, isnt it? Theyre barely on your side. As far as I can see, its just a pack of Daily Mail lies.

Are you saying that she hadnt satisfied Mike Hancock, then?

The only thing thats true in the Daily Mail tale is that she fluently speaks six languages and she has the specific characteristics that would fit a Russian spy. But thats about it.

To date, Arron Bankss strategy with the press has been this: if he doesnt like what they say, he informs his lawyers at Mishcon de Reya and threatens to sue. He threatened to sue Matthew Elliott the director of the official Vote Leave campaign for calling Leave.EU racist. He threatened to sue a thinktank, American Bridge, which featured him in an article entitled The Kremlins Trojan Horses. He threatened to sue the Guardian for publishing his business dealings as specified in the Panama Newspaper. He threatened to sue a newspaper that described him as having business interests in Belize. And he threatened to sue a commentator on CNN for building certain statements about him on air.

They called me a Russian actor! And Ive got no feelings one way or another other than having a Russian spouse. I felt that was just wrong. They said that Brexit was funded by the Russians. Thats a bit rich.

Its not rich to ask the question though, is it?

If you lied and said Russians money Brexit, I would be pretty annoyed.

But what if I say, Arron, the question is are you a Russian actor?

I wouldnt care in the least. They said I was a Russian actor and that Russian money had funded Brexit, and it was wrong. There has to be a point where you describe the line in the sand.

Im not going to say that, I tell him. Because its impossible to know what the sources of your wealth are. Thats the whole issue.

Thats wrong as well because I made a fortune in insurance policies industry. Im taxed in northern Bristol. My money is attained in the UK.

Some of it is. And the remainder? Who knows. Thats my beef , not so much with him but our electoral finance rules. Hes free to donate, even though nobody knows quite where the 7m he put into the Leave campaign came from, or the millions he put into Ukip: his financial arrangements include a complex structure of companies based in secretive low-tax jurisdictions. Even Leave.EU was set up by an offshore company. Its the outgrowth of STM Fidecs, which the Observer reported appeared in Gibraltar.

In Britain he has his insurance companies, various security and intelligence companies, a new data company. Hes a director of nearly 40 different companies employing somewhat different fluctuations of his name. He has installed employees as directors of other companies. And then theres a whole offshore empire. A bank he co-owns on the Isle of Man. A slew of things in Gibraltar. The defunct shell companies, as he describes them, in the British Virgin Islands. And diamond ours in South Africa he owns a whole supply chain of diamonds, from mines to shops.

How many companies do you actually own? He shrugs. Ive no idea.

This is how offshore can work: a web of deliberate privacy. A web that is now being brought into politics. Not simply immediately via the money that Banks is pouring in, but indirectly too. The digital marketing of the Vote Leave campaign was offshored too: funnelled through a tiny company on the west coast of Canada.

In America, the restrictions on political funding were dismantled in a 2010 case, bankrolled by Robert Mercer, which an organisation called Citizens United took to the supreme court , opening up the way to Super Pacs political action committees which have become unlimited donation vehicles. The sums in Britain are tiny in comparison, but you dont even need to create a system of Pacs: theres no way of knowing how much money was poured into the Leave campaign before the regulated period( the next few weeks before the campaign when spending is monitored and capped ). Banks is setting up a motion not a party, at least initially. Parties are subject to some political financing regulations. Motions arent.

Why are your companies based in low-tax jurisdictions with no revealing requirements, I ask Banks.

Why should I pay more taxation? he answers.

Going
Running up Gerry Gunster, Arron Banks, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Andy Wigmore and Raheem Kassam at Trump Tower in New York, in November 2016, three days after Trumps election victory. Photo: Wigmore/ Finn/ Splash News

Because youre a citizen of this country? And it pays for colleges and hospitals. Im an internationalist, OK? If I own diamond mines in South Africa, why would I register a company in the UK?

Its one thing to be an internationalist if youre only a private individual. But hes not. Hes the man who bankrolled Brexit. But what does it matter? Hes already told me the mainstream media is worthless. That the BBC lies. What you write is altogether valueless because its sitting under another bunch of newspapers virtually straightaway.

More precisely, who needs to sue in persons under the age of #fakenews, anyway? Later he gives me a lift to the station, and Andy Wigmore they call one another Wiggy and Banksy is on speakerphone. Wigmore has family links to Belize, and he was that countrys trade envoy to the UK until January, when the foreign office stripped him of his diplomatic status because of his political activity. And Banks lost his status too: he was Belizes special envoy to Wales. Its all a terrific gag. But what? I say. Youre telling me you have a diplomatic passport?

Yes, he says. We both do. Proud British citizens both.

Then Wiggy pipes up: Did you know Paul Manafort[ Trumps ex-campaign manager] is accused of laundering Russian fund through Belize?

Are Banksy and Wiggy trolling me? Utilizing me a feature novelist on a remoaner newspaper to get this stuff out into the sunlight? But all hopelessly mixed up together? Banks has chucked it all at me: his diplomatic passports and diamond ours, Russians snoops, offshore tax havens, circumvention of electoral law. All those individual facts are true, but together it feels like one big confected mess? #Fakenews? Is that whats going on here? Thats what it feels like.

There is weirdness threaded through this story in all sorts of ways. Talking to Banks, my grasp on normal feelings slippery. Its like the weirdness of reading a Trump tweet. The weirdness of playing what feels like a high-level game of chess with Banks, but in the British style with banter and gags. Banks has a good sense of humour. One of the first things he tells me is how much he enjoys it when Marina Hyde, the Guardian s peerless columnist, rends the piss out of him. I bait him relentlessly and I can tell hes enjoying that, too.

But the weirdness still cuts through. Theres the moment when I challenge Banks to a toast in my pidgin Russian. You truly dont speak Russian, do you? he says after I accidentally throw in some Czech. Maybe Im fluent, he says, although he refuses to say a single word.

The lifebuoy I find myself comprehending hold of is a piece in last Sundays New York Times by Masha Gessen, the biographer of Putin, who now lives in the US. One should resist trafficking in exaggeration and unsubstantiated allegations, she writes. Its pointless looking for a conspiracy, she says. The unimaginable has already happened. The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day , not only continues to dull our defences but also generates a needs a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our own country.

And here too. Out in the open is the fact that Arron Banks is pro-Putin. I tell you what Im pro, he tells me. Im pro Putin being actually for his country. Its not possible to run that entire country as a pure democracy. Its not possible. The whole history of Russia is that there has to be someone strong in control or it violates up.

Out in the open is that hes just said that democracy isnt necessarily the answer. Out in the open is that Nigel Farage has voted multiple times in alignment with Russian interests in the European parliament. Out in the open is that Banks defends Putins invasion of both Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Its 85% ethnic Russian, he says.

You dont need to look at the inputs. Just look at the outputs. Theres no need to go looking for a conspiracy. Whats right here, in plain sight, is troubling enough. Andrew Foxall, the director of the Russian Study Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, tells me that is the point he is always building. Join the dots that are in full view. Theres a tendency right now to see Russian bureau in everything, given the heightened awareness. To guess Russia must be in play.

There are commonalities that are there anyway. It just so happens Russia overlaps with the alt-right, as they call it in the US, and the far right in Europe, and Ukip in Britain. Farage has been part of a pan-European, pro-Russian network in the European parliament. And Russia helps to facilitate and amplify those discourses.

The Russian nation uses different tactics in different countries, and sometimes it doesnt need to do much at all. Farage had been among the first Ukip legislators to espouse RT [ Russias country broadcaster, formerly Russia Today , which has a channel in the UK] in 2007 -2 008.

It was one thing for people to be pro-Russia before 2014, Foxall says, but post Crimea, the MH17 missile that brought down the plane in Ukraine, the war crimes in Aleppo, the Kremlins tactics are clear. And to be a willing participant in that is profoundly disturbing.

Out in the open is Russias strategy of stoking and encouraging far-right motions in Europe. Ben Nimmo, a defence analyst with the Atlantic Council, points out that the Russian military doctrine published in 2014 lays out the characteristics of modern warfare as the combined utilize of military and non-military means: Economic, diplomatic and informational. And the use of protest potential of the local population. Nimmo surveys disinformation and says that the far right and Russia are linked together in a single network.

So after the Berlin attack, Paul Joseph Watson[ a British far-right activist with a huge following on social media] had been among the first who jumped in with a slew of tweets blaming Islam. And that was picking up an RT news report. Theres this huge confluence between Russia and the far right. Its the opposition to western liberalism that unifies them. From the Kremlins point of view its because they loathe republic and transparency, but it also entails disliking lesbian wedding and wanting to ban the Quran and being pro-Christianity and whites.

Also out in the open, framed by a golden door, is the closeness of the transatlantic alliance. Farage, Wigmore and Banks may sound and behave like Clarkson, May and the Hamster but, ideologically, theyre the darknes players of Trump, Bannon and Mercer.

It was data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica that resulted me to understanding Robert Mercers role in all this; in the great disruption of the political landscape on two continents; his strategic and coordinated attack on the mainstream media and its replacement with an alternative online network. But its Steve Bannon who forged these links across the Atlantic.

Bannon was the one who is as shown in 2012 to find European versions of the tea party motion and he has cultivated a close relationship with Farage and Ukip ever since. With Robert Mercers billions, hes supported them first via Breitbart and latterly during the referendum campaign. He directed Mercers Cambridge Analytica to give its assistance too. On the working day article 50 was triggered this week, Nigel Farage created his pint glass to toast Well done Bannon, he said. Well done, Breitbart. You helped with this hugely.

Out in the open is this, Bankss statement to me: What youre talking about is the degree to which the Russians actually lets say they influenced the Brexit vote. Say Im pro-Putin. Nigel said hes not anti-Putin, if thats the right word. But all weve said is that there are elements of what Russians do that we dont disagree with. We dont agree with everything theyre doing, like murdering journalists in the street.

I interrupt him. Youre saying, on the record, that you dont agree with murdering journalists on the street?

Ill merely say it once, he says.

We both giggle. Though possibly only one of us has a somewhat high-pitched edge to our voice.

Dismiss, confuse, consternation. This, Nimmo tells me, is the classic Russian disinformation strategy. You launder information like you launder money. You pass it through a decide of different bodies. You send it from one shell company/ mouthpiece to another. You confuse its origins. You chuck in a distraction. You create outrage.

Nigel
Nigel Farage and then Ukip party chairman Steve Crowther with their new donor, Arron Banks, in Bristol, 2014. Photograph: Matt Cardy/ Getty Images

And in this context, I wonder if thats me. Have I been groomed as the vector? The agent of disinformation. The boat through which their scrambled, encrypted, confounding message is passing. Maybe this is simply a description of all journalists in all interview situations. Its just usually some celeb trying to flog their memoir.

What is Banks flogging? Andrew Breitbart, the founder and notifying spirit of Breitbart, believed politics is downstream from culture. First change the culture, then the politics will follow. Take the existing culture and subtly distort it. Banks has launched a new politics site, Westmonster, and in his sights is the Westminster elite and the metropolitan upper-clas. He levels this at me. I point out: Youre the privately educated multimillionaire whos sitting here drinking white wine in Islington.

The shame, I guess, is that he could have been a leftie. There is a strong streak of social justice that runs through him. Or social something. Chippiness is an example of it. But thats no bad thing. But hes not a leftie. And in the US, the permanent revolution is well under way. Steve Bannon is masterminding a silent coup: the institutions of government are being systematically dismantled. The relation of citizens to the state is being re-engineered. Trump, the businessman, is redefining them as consumers. Last week the US senate approved the right of telecoms companies to sell their customers browsing history a huge step forward in renegotiating the relationship between individuals and their rights from that of democratic participants to end users. This really is government as platform monopoly. Government as modelled on Google and Facebook. And whats coming is platform republic, where the company/ government retains the right to change the user arrangement at any time. And its data the intimate info of you, your personal life, your history, your relationships, your dreams and passions, your thoughts thats the source of their power, legitimacy, capital. Harvested, captured, sold, fed into the panopticon: total surveillance, total control, total power.

Ive started to think that Brexit isnt our Trump moment. Thats whats coming next 2016 will be nothing next to the general election of 2020, our year of reckoning.

Before I satisfy Banks, I watch him talking on stage at a trade present called Master Investor. I learned of it because I had liked Leave.EUs Facebook page and Im now in their million-strong database. This isnt merely a million people, to be clear. Its the entire social networks of a million people. I had received an email inviting me to the event, hosted by Bankss great friend, Jim Mellon.

Mellon is another businessman who donated to Leave.EU. He constructed millions in the early 90 s in Russia in uranium mining, investing $100,000 in a company that was worth $2.5 bn two years later. He doesnt live in Britain though. The human who introduced Banks to Farage, who brought the Brexit team together, wasnt actually eligible to vote in the referendum. He lives in Ibiza and the Isle of Man. Article 50 as brought to you by true patriots, foreign donors, multimillionaires, Belizean passport holders and taxation exiles.

I ask Banks about the email I got, advertising the event. The insurance offers hes sending to Leave.EU subscribers. The utilize of his political database for commercial purposes

Jim Mellon is my friend, he says. Why shouldnt I? Its my data.

Well , no, its not. Its my data. Your data. Its whats at the heart of all this. Steve Bannon knows this, and Robert Mercer knows this, and Arron Banks knows this. His day job, one of them insurance is all about data. We know everything about everyone, he says. We buy everything.

The battle for data is where the next general election will be fought. Politics is war, says Steve Bannon. And Banks is already out of the trenches.

Politics is war. Politics is business. Business is politics. There are no walls between them any more. Silos, as they call it in the tech world. There are no silos. Its all one , now enmeshed, intertwined, inseparable.

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