Elements of the 2016 British referendum campaign have long seemed familiar to Americans. There was a close, controversial election, full of rancor and anger. There were a lot of wealthy men talking about “the people” and their “will.” There were targeted advertising campaigns, stolen data and fake social media accounts. But now, with only a few days left until Britain is due to face the consequences of that vote, the Brexit story suddenly looks even more familiar: One of its protagonists turns out to have much deeper Russian business connections than previously suspected. He also tried to conceal them.
The protagonist in question is Arron Banks, the most important funder of both the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Leave.EU, one of several organizations that campaigned to get Britain out of the European Union. By the relatively low-spending standards of British politics, Banks was a huge donor, giving $11 million of his own money to the Brexit cause and raising an additional $5 million on top. And here’s the peculiarly British part of the story: Thanks to Banks’s extensive use of tax havens and shell companies, it has never been entirely clear where all of that money came from — or even whether all of it was really his.