Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings could face contempt charge for refusing to address fake news inquiry

MPs have issued a formal summons to Mr Cummings, who accused them of 'grandstanding'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 17 May 2018 16:56 BST
Facebook data row: What is Cambridge Analytica?

The director of the main Brexit campaign is facing being held in contempt of parliament after repeatedly refusing to give evidence to MPs about the Facebook data row.

Dominic Cummings, the former Vote Leave chief, has been issued with a formal summons to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on May 22, after declining several invitations to speak at its fake news inquiry.

Tory committee chairman, Damian Collins, said he was "disappointed" that Mr Cummings had not responded favourably to the requests, as he started the process which could result in Mr Cummings being held in contempt of parliament,

However Mr Cummings, the strategist credited with driving the Brexit campaign, accused the committee of "grandstanding" and said he had had been clear that he would give evidence once an Electoral Commission inquiry was over.

It comes as Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix agreed to be grilled by MPs over the Facebook data scandal next month, after whistleblowers accused the firm of misusing the private data of millions of users during Donald Trump's election campaign.

"We are disappointed that Dominic Cummings has not responded positively to our requests for him to appear," said Mr Collins.

"His reasoning that he must delay giving evidence due to ongoing investigations simply does not hold up, considering that Alexander Nix, Jeff Silvester and others involved have agreed to co-operate with the committee's investigations despite currently being subject to various investigations.

"Reporting the matter to the House is a first step which could result in a decision that a contempt of Parliament has been committed, a very serious outcome for the individual."

MPs will address "numerous inconsistencies" in Mr Nix's evidence when he was grilled by the committee earlier this year, Mr Collins said.

The political consultancy firm announced it was shutting down this month amid international outrage over allegations it misused private Facebook data to target voters. Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing.

Vote Leave became caught up in the scandal when whistleblowers said it used the advertising firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to put out targeted messages during the EU referendum in 2016.

AIQ's chief operating officer Jeff Silvester told the committee on Wednesday that it had previously worked for Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL but denied any link with the firm itself.

There are no formal sanctions the House can impose if Mr Cummings is found in contempt, as it has powers to order imprisonment or fine people - but these powers are "untested in recent times", a 2012 report found.

The row could also set an interesting precedent for the committee, which has unsuccessfully tried to compel Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence to its inquiry.

Responding to the claims, Mr Cummings pointed to an entry on his blog posted a week ago, in which he accused the committee of "grandstanding, not truth-seeking".

He said he had been told by lawyers to "keep my trap shut" until the conclusion of an Electoral Commission probe, but was happy to give evidence after this.

"I said that if they issued a summons instead of discussing possible dates like reasonable people, then it would be obvious they are not interested in friendly co-operation to uncover the truth," said Mr Cummings.

"So I will not give evidence to this committee under any circumstances. I may to other committees depending on behaviour."

Mr Cummings will be portrayed by Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch in an upcoming drama about the Brexit campaign, it was announced this week.

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