MPs to question leading Brexiteer Arron Banks over Russia links

Brittany Kaiser

Brittany Kaiser

Banks, who is married to a Russian woman, then visited Russia in February 2016 at the height of the European Union referendum campaign for what he said was "a family trip" that involved no meetings with Russian officials.

The watchdog said the group - which was separate from the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave - failed to report "at least" £77,380 it spent.

Mr Banks agreed to give evidence to the committee after previously pulling out as he accused MPs of conducting a "witch hunt". He added: "I have no business in Russian Federation, I have done no business deals in Russian Federation".

Asked whether he would campaign again in the event of a second referendum, he said: "If I had my time again, I probably wouldn't have done this in the first place".

He added: "You may have better intel than me".

The combative testimony comes at an awkward time for the government as it engages in last-gasp efforts to persuade wavering Conservative Party lawmakers not to rebel against its key Brexit legislation in votes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller is now investigating any possible collusion between Trump's 2016 election campaign team and Russian Federation.

He and Mr Banks subsequently got "trollied" over an enjoyable lunch with Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.

Banks and Wigmore, who was also testifying before the committee Tuesday, acknowledged that they handed the telephone numbers of the Trump transition team to the Russians after their visit to Trump Tower.

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Prominent Brexiteer Arron Banks has insisted there is no evidence the anti-EU campaign took Russian money as he faces a grilling from MPs. "I thought it was interesting", Banks said, referring to the meeting. His only trips to Russian Federation were in October 2014 and March 2015, he said.

"In light of the fact that, according to Guido, you had some hospitality from Putin's number one man in the United Kingdom, do you not think you are a bit conflicted questioning us about this today?" he said.

He denied improperly using customer data from his companies in the campaign but conceded: "We were not above using alternative methods to punch home our message or lead people up the garden path if we had to".

Andy Wigmore, a former British diplomat and close associate of Banks who also appeared at the hearing, said Yakovenko simply "couldn't believe Trump had won" and was scrambling for contacts.

"Banks and Wigmore were shamelessly used by the Russians", Oakeshott said in the Sunday Times.

Mr Paisley later joked about the Russian reports, tweeting a picture of himself with the pair and his East Antrim colleague and saying; "Great to catch up on a busy day with Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore to discuss Brexit and beyond over an entertaining lunch".

Both men also defended Leave.EU's political tactics during the referendum, which included focusing largely on immigration control as a reason for Britain to leave the EU.

Banks gave three loans to the Leave.EU campaign totaling 6 million pounds ($8 million), according to the commission.

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