Arron Banks broke agreement to suspend Brexit campaigning after Jo Cox murder, investigation finds

Leave.EU team told to 'up the spend' on Facebook and 'press it harder”, emails obtained by Channel 4 reveal – the morning after the killing

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 08 March 2019 20:31 GMT
Alison McGovern on Aaron Banks breaking agreement to suspend brexit campaign after Jo Cox murder: 'It’s horrific, watching that makes me feel sick'

Arron Banks flouted an agreement to suspend Brexit campaigning after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, according to an investigation by Channel 4 News.

Nigel Farage’s ally ordered Leave.EU team to “up the spend” on Facebook and “press it harder”, emails obtained by the programme reveal – the morning after the killing that shocked the nation.

Channel 4 said the emails also showed a Leave.EU press officer drafted a press release accusing the media of politicising Ms Cox’s murder for the Remain side, but in the name of the Labour Leave campaign group.

Arron Banks approved the release – reading “blackmailing Brexiteers to tone down their campaign is a new low” – stating “much better for them to do it,” the programme reported.

Alison McGovern, a Labour MP 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.”

Her colleague Jo Stevens said: “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 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.”

Mr Banks, the self-styled “bad boy of Brexit” told Channel 4 News he was skiing in Italy and unable to respond to the allegations.

“The length and sheer number of details in the letter means that it will take 7 days to respond to your request,” he said, later cutting that to 5 days, the programme said.

Ms Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, in West Yorkshire died after being shot and stabbed multiple times ahead of a constituency surgery, one week before the June 2016 referendum, by far-right activist Thomas Mair.

Brexit campaigners agreed that evening to suspend their activities in her honour, a pause that lasted for three days.

But the emails obtained by Channel 4 showed that, the morning after the killing, Mr Banks emailed Liz Bilney, the chief executive of Leave.EU and other staff, saying: “Keep pumping the McKenna video” and “up the Spend A”.

Ms Bilney replied: “Yes that’s starting to get traction now and with paid advertising and no active campaigning could get a lot of take up today.” Mr Banks then said: “Exactly - press it harder.”

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

The accusation of media politicisation triggered a backlash so that Labour Leave condemned the statement – claiming it had been issued falsely in its name.

The programme also reported that Labour Leave is under investigation by the Electoral Commission but John Mills, who ran it, insisted it was not controlled or directed by Leave.EU.

“We were our own people, we ran our own ship, we had our own money,” he said. “He did not provide any cash for us at all.”

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