In the three years separating Nigel Farage’s infamous “independence day” declaration and his insurgent Brexit Party’s likely victory in next week’s European elections, one man has increasingly come into view as a major power behind the ascent of the former Ukip leader.
That man is Arron Banks, an insurance tycoon from Basingstoke, who was stood next to Mr Farage during that victory speech at a London party the morning after the June 2016 referendum, and whose lavish bankrolling of Mr Farage now looks set to lead to an investigation by the European parliament.
Documents uncovered by Channel 4 News earlier this week purportedly revealed the multimillionaire spent around £450,000 funding Mr Farage’s lifestyle following the 2016 referendum. The news channel said it included rent on an exclusive £4.4m Chelsea home, as well as tens of thousands on security and a Land Rover Discovery.
Mr Banks dismissed the claims as an attempt “to smear myself and Nigel” – while Mr Farage said any funding after the referendum had “nothing to do with politics”.
But the revelations are just the latest in a series of international controversies and intrigues in which the pair have been intimately entwined.
Mr Banks and Mr Farage’s relationship was forged in the years before the referendum, when in 2014 the former Tory donor switched allegiance to Ukip, and upped a £100,000 donation to £1m, claiming the increase was a result of former foreign secretary William Hague having called him a “nobody”.
When David Cameron, having led the Conservatives to victory in the following year’s general election, announced a referendum on whether to leave the EU, Mr Banks and Mr Farage joined forces to launch Leave.EU, an unofficial campaign group bankrolled by the former and led by the latter.
Leave.EU attracted criticism throughout the campaign, notably for its use of anti-EU posters widely perceived as racist, and became mired in further controversy following the vote when it emerged Mr Banks had handed the group more than £8m – the biggest sum by any individual donor.
Mr Banks insists the donations came from his US insurance businesses, but he has repeatedly failed to produce evidence and remains under investigation by the National Crime Agency after the Electoral Commission suggested he was “not the true source” of the money.
Mr Farage and Mr Banks soon found themselves subject to US media interest when they were photographed alongside then president-elect Donald Trump outside his apartment in Trump Tower shortly after the November elections.
That came just months after Mr Farage and Mr Banks – alongside the latter’s communications chief Andy Wigmore – attended a Trump rally in Mississippi, where Mr Farage would impress a raucous crowd of Trump supporters.
As US authorities became increasingly concerned about Russian interference in those elections, the “Bad Boys of Brexit”, as Mr Banks dubbed the trio in his 2016 memoir, reportedly emerged as figures of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who would for two years investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Moscow. Both Mr Farage and Mr Banks deny any role with Russia.
Investigators allegedly probed Mr Farage’s links to Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website published Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers, while a parliamentary inquiry the following year would reveal that Mr Banks had handed a Trump campaign telephone number to the Russian ambassador in London.
Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore gave evidence to the MPs’ probe after it was revealed they met Russia’s ambassador three times in 2015 and 2016 – rather than the single “six-hour boozy lunch” Mr Banks had previously acknowledged.
But with Mr Farage’s (manifesto-less) Brexit Party looking set to dominate both Labour and the Conservatives at the polls on Thursday, and Mr Banks’ role in paying for much of his friend’s post-referendum activities, the pair are firmly back in the spotlight.
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