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Arron Banks
Born Arron Fraser Andrew Banks
(1966-03-22) 22 March 1966 (age 52)
Northwich, Cheshire, England
Nationality British
Education Crookham Court Manor School
St Bartholomew's School
The Castle School
Occupation Businessman
Net worth £100 million (January 2015)[1]
Spouse(s) Ekaterina Paderina (m. 2001)
Children 5

Arron Fraser Andrew Banks (born 22 March 1966) is a British businessman and political donor. He is the co-founder (with Richard Tice) of the Leave.EU campaign.[2] Banks was one of the largest donors to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and bankrolled Nigel Farage’s campaign to quit the EU. He appears to have had multiple meetings with Russian embassy officials in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.[3][4] [5][6] He claimed he was suspended from UKIP in March 2017.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Banks was born in Northwich, Cheshire.[8] He was raised by is mother in Basingstoke, Hampshire as his father worked as a sugar plantation manager in various African countries. From age 13 he attended a boarding school called Crookham Court in Berkshire before being expelled for "an accumulation of offences", including the sale of lead stolen from the roofs of school buildings and "high-spirited bad behaviour". He then attended St Bartholomew's School in Newbury but was expelled again. Returning to Basingstoke, where he sold paintings, vacuum cleaners, and then houses, age 21 he married his first wife, Caroline, with whom he has two daughters.[9]

Banks' first marriage lasted ten years and in 2001 he married Russian, Ekaterina Paderina, the mother of three more children.[9][1] Paderina is reported to have received help to remain in the UK from Mike Hancock while he was an MP.[10]

In August 2012, Banks was arrested on suspicion of harassment, but not charged, and was issued with a "prevention of harassment" notice and words of advice after harassment allegations by 33-year-old Jo Featherby. After Featherby had complained to the police, she was dismissed from the insurance company GoSkippy — linked to Banks's firm Brightside. Featherby commenced employment tribunal proceedings against GoSkippy, alleging unfair dismissal. She later agreed an out-of-court settlement.[11]

In 2014 Banks reportedly lived in the village of Tockington near Bristol in a house with a "huge" Union Jack flying over the front lawn, and owned another house overlooking a game reserve near Pretoria in South Africa.[9]

Business career[edit]

Banks was offered a junior job at Lloyd's of London. According to The Guardian, by the age of 27, he was running a division of Norwich Union. The article also claims that he spent a year working for Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company of Warren Buffett.[12] However, in another investigation, both Norwich Union and Warren Buffett reject Banks' claim that he worked for them.[13] Then from an office above a bakery in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, Banks' started motorcycle insurance broker, Motorcycle Direct and within a few years the company was big enough to sell for “a few million”. He used the money to found Commercial Vehicle Direct about which he says “within a very short period we were the largest van insurance company in the country”.[14][9] Over seven years, along with Australian business partner John Gannon, Banks expanded this business to become Group Direct Limited, and in 2008 the company floated by means of a reverse takeover as Brightside Group. He was its CEO from June 2011 to June 2012, at which time the company was listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).[15][16][14] After Banks was fired from the company in 2012 he sold £6m worth of shares in 2013 and received significantly more when the investment firm AnaCap Financial Partners bought Brightside the following year.[13]

Banks was the chief executive (CEO) of Southern Rock Insurance Company in 2014, which underwrites insurance policies for the website GoSkippy.com, which was founded by Banks.[17][18] After Banks' departure, Brightside took legal action against him, alleging he used confidential information in setting up GoSkippy.com six months later. There were also legal actions between Southern Rock and Brightside.[1][19]

He was previously CEO of AIM-listed Manx Financial Group from April 2008 to February 2009.[15] According to Companies House records, Banks has set up 37 different companies using slight variations of his name. The names used by Banks are Aron Fraser Andrew Banks, Arron Andrew Fraser Banks, Arron Fraser Andrew Banks and Arron Banks. The profiles for the first three names all use the same date of birth but register different lists of companies. When asked by The Guardian about this, he declined to answer questions on the topic.[20]

Banks also owns Eldon Insurance who's CEO Elizabeth Bilney was also in charge at Leave.EU. and where Andy Wigmore is also a director. The company's profits leapt to £16.7m for the first half of 2017 after recording a £284,000 profit in 2015 and a loss of £22,500 in 2016 despite a 40% increase in revenue. Banks said that Eldon's business had been transformed by the same AI technology used in the Brexit campaign.[21] The offshore holding company that controls Eldon Insurance is ICS Risk Solutions, which funds many of Banks' activities and has paid over £77m between 2015 and 2018 to prop up Southern Rock after Gibraltarian regulators found the business to be trading while technically insolvent.[22] As part of an agreement with the regulators Banks resigned his directorships at Eldon in 2013 and Southern Rock in 2014, also accepting a “period of ban or self-exclusion from other insurance directorships”.[23]

He also bought Old Down Manor from the Tubular Bells musician Mike Oldfield converting it into a wedding venue.[9]

In 2016, the leaked Panama Papers indicated Banks along with Elizabeth Bilney were shareholders of British Virgin Islands company PRI Holdings Limited, which was the sole shareholder of African Strategic Resources Limited.[24] However, a spokesperson for Banks has denied any links to the lawyer named and denies that Banks was involved with the Papers.[25] Banks has stated that he has a controlling interest in a diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa, and a licence to mine in Lesotho.[1][26]

In January 2015, one estimate of his wealth was £100 million.[1] In November 2017 an estimate of £250 million was mentioned.[27]

Accusations of tax avoidance[edit]

Following intensified media scrutiny after his initial donation to UKIP, it emerged that Banks was involved in mining in southern Africa and had connections to Belize. Banks also has connections to companies based in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, and close connections with family members of the Belizean Prime Minister.[28] However, following remarks made by The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci on BBC One's Question Time programme, Banks denied owning a company in Belize or seeking to avoid UK tax "via any device". Describing the comments as "clearly defamatory", he threatened legal action towards Iannucci if he did not get an apology within a week.[29][needs update]

Asked if his companies paid full corporation tax, Banks "I paid over £2.5m of income tax last year ... My insurance business, like a lot of them, is based in Gibraltar but I've got UK businesses as well that deal with customers and pay tax like everyone else."[28] One of the UK businesses of which Banks is director, Rock Services Ltd, had a turnover of £19.7m last year and paid corporation tax of £12,000. The company deducted £19.6m in "administrative expenses", and the main activity appears to be "recharge of goods and services" with Southern Rock Insurance Company.[28] Southern Rock Insurance states on its website that it underwrites policies for the customers of GoSkippy.com, which is run by Banks. Because it is based in Gibraltar, there is little information available on it.

Rock Services and Southern Rock Insurance's ultimate holding company is Rock Holdings Ltd, a company based on the Isle of Man.[28] Banks has also been a "substantial" shareholder in STM Fidecs, of which Leave.EU is a subsidiary; the company claims to be specialising in "international wealth protection", maximising tax efficiencies for entrepreneurs and expatriates and of "structuring international groups, particularly separating and relocating intellectual property and treasury functions to low- or no-tax jurisdictions".[30]

Political career and donations[edit]

Banks was previously a Conservative Party donor, but announced in October 2014 he would instead donate £1 million to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Banks said that he had changed party allegiance because he agrees with UKIP's policies and its view that the European Union "is holding the UK back" because it's a "closed shop for bankrupt countries".[31][32] Banks has been described as the "leading figure" behind the anti-EU Grassroots Out and Leave.EU,[33] as well as the official Vote Leave campaign.[34][35]

He signalled his intention to stand for UKIP in the constituency of Thornbury and Yate at the 2015 general election,[36] but the candidate chosen by the party was Russ Martin, who came third. He indicated he would stand in Clacton at the 2017 general election against Douglas Carswell,[37] but later decided otherwise.[38]

Banks claimed in March 2017 that he had been suspended from UKIP; he believed the reason was that he had criticised the leadership. UKIP said, however, that his membership had lapsed before this time.[7]

In May 2018, Banks attended a fundraising event for the Democratic Unionist Party, alongside Nigel Farage, and stated that he would support a bid by Farage to seek office as a DUP candidate after the end of his tenure as Member of the European Parliament in 2019.[39]

Conservative Party donations[edit]

A spokesman for Nigel Farage said that Banks had funded the Chipping Sodbury office for the South Gloucestershire Conservatives "to the tune of £250,000". However, a Conservative spokesperson said the support was "nothing like the order of magnitude" of sums claimed, and estimated that the donations were "probably around the £22,000 mark".[40]

A UKIP source told The Guardian that Banks had also loaned £75,417 to Thornbury and Yate Conservative Party through Panacea Finance (his former company) in September 2007, registered on the Electoral Commission and to be paid back by 2022. However, Companies House records show that Banks resigned from the company in September 2005; therefore it was considered questionable as to whether Banks was controlling the company at the time, or whether he was "using the firm as a 'proxy donor'", according to The Guardian.[20]

Relationship with Eurosceptic organisations[edit]

In October 2014 Banks donated £1 million to the UK Independence Party[41] and has since raised the equivalent of $11 million for the party. He has also funded Leave.EU by the equivalent of $5 million, and has been seen as the financial backer of the Brexit campaign.[42]

Labour MP Michael Dugher said that Banks' defection showed that "David Cameron is haemorrhaging support and his authority is ebbing away. He can't control his party, who clearly have no confidence in his leadership. And once again we see that UKIP are reliant on Tory money as well as Tory policy and Tory politicians, putting paid to the idea that they stand up for working people."[43][44] Conservative MP William Hague called Banks "somebody we haven't heard of" following his defection to UKIP: In response, Banks increased his donation from £100,000 to £1 million, saying: "I woke up this morning intending to give £100,000 to UKIP - then I heard Mr Hague's comment about me being a Mr Nobody. So in light of that I have decided to give £1 million."[32] This donation was one of the largest sums of money ever received by UKIP.[28]

Banks threatened Douglas Carswell with deselection in September 2015 when it emerged that Carswell supported Vote Leave, as opposed to the Leave.EU campaign funded by Banks,[45] describing Carswell as "borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in", according to The Huffington Post.[46]

In April 2016, Private Eye revealed that Leave.EU "is registered at Companies House as Better for the Country Ltd. and controlled by major UKIP donor Arron Banks, after Gibraltar company STM Fidecs Nominees Ltd. transferred its interest to him in August."[35] Banks, along with property investor Richard Tice and media guru Andrew Wigmore, donated £4.3m to the group.[35]

Banks credits the success of Leave.EU to their hiring of Goddard Gunster and their subsequent adoption of "an American-style media approach". Banks said, "What [Goddard Gunster] said early on was 'facts don’t work' and that's it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success."[47]

On 19 October 2017, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw called for an inquiry into Banks' funding of the Leave campaign over concerns of foreign interference in it.[48]

Possibility of "rightwing Momentum"[edit]

In September 2016, following Banks' statement that UKIP would be "dead in the water" if Diane James did not become leader,[49] he said that he would leave UKIP if Steven Woolfe was prevented from running for leader and two other senior members remained in the party: "If Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell [UKIP's only MP] remain in the party, and the NEC decide that Steven Woolfe cannot run for leader, I will be leaving Ukip".[50]

Banks was sceptical of UKIP under the leadership of Paul Nuttall.[51] Banks said that Leave.EU would continue campaigning as a "rightwing Momentum", ensuring that politicians do not renege on their commitment to leave the EU.[47] Banks has also considered starting and funding a pro-Brexit, nonpartisan citizens' movement called Patriotic Alliance, based on the Five Star Movement,[42] which would target "the 200 worst, most corrupt MPs" for deselection.[52]

Brexit[edit]

Claiming that Britain's EU membership "is like having a first class ticket on the Titanic", Banks said that "Economically, remaining in the EU is unsustainable."[53][54]

Banks claimed his policy during the Brexit campaign was to "bore the electorate into submission", in the hope that a low turnout would favour Brexit.[55][56]

Controversies[edit]

Banks threatened to sue the official Vote Leave campaign's candidacy as the official spokesperson for the "Leave" vote in the 2016 EU referendum, which may have possibly delayed the vote by two months. However, Banks has since rejected this and stated that he would not pursue a judicial review any further.[57] Banks has also claimed that Vote Leave were deliberately lying when they claimed that the UK sends £350 million to the European Union, claiming this does not take into consideration the rebate which the UK receives from the EU, and that the £350 million is not actually sent to the EU headquarters in Brussels.[58]

Following the murder of Jo Cox, Arron Banks controversially commissioned a poll on whether her murder had affected public opinion on voting. Asked whether the wording of the poll was "tasteless", Banks said "I don't think so",[59] adding that: "We were hoping to see what the effect of the event was. That is an interesting point of view, whether it would shift public opinion."[60]

In August 2017, Banks wrote to all voters in Philip Hammond's constituency, seeking support for a move to deselect Hammond. In response to a constituent's email, Hammond said "others will disagree with my views and someone with opposing views to mine can always stand for election against me.... I challenge Mr Banks to do so".

Aftermath[edit]

In the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the EU, Banks emailed a note to journalists attacking his critics. Banks described the United Kingdom's parliamentary Electoral Commission as "the legal division of the In campaign" and disagreed with their decision to enlist Vote Leave as the official campaign. Also, Banks' response to the information commissioner, who last month fined the campaign £50,000 for sending more than half a million unsolicited text messages, was a succinct "Whatever".[61][62] Banks views the Brexit vote as "a kind of halfhearted revolution" due to the fact that Theresa May, who supported Britain remaining in the EU, would end up betraying those who voted to leave.[42]

In November 2017, the Electoral Commission announced that it is investigating whether election rules were broken during the EU referendum, in donations worth a total of £8.4 million to Leave.EU campaigners made by Banks and by Better for the Country Ltd, a company of which Banks is a registered director.[63][64]

Links to Russia[edit]

In November 2015, Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador, introduced Banks to a Russian businessman. According to The Guardian,[65] Banks was offered a chance to invest in Russian gold firms, potentially netting a profit of several billion dollars. The deal involved funding from a Russian state-owned bank, and was announced 12 days after the Brexit referendum.

Websites[edit]

LibLabCon.com[edit]

Banks gave significant funds to LibLabCon.com, a satirical website dedicated to attacking the three major parties. The website included jokes about the treatment of religious people by the Conservatives, claimed Chuka Umunna is "Labour's chief spokesman for tokenism" and described Amnesty International as an organisation which supports "loudmouth idiots chained to a radiator".[66] UKIP sources insisted that Banks did not write the material on the website. Despite receiving the support of Banks and Tim Aker, UKIP told the Daily Mail the website was not linked to them.[67]

Westmonster[edit]

On 19 January 2017 (one day before Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States) Banks launched Westmonster alongside Michael Heaver, former press adviser to Nigel Farage.[68][69] It is modelled on the right-wing US websites Breitbart News and the Drudge Report and claims to be "pro-Brexit, pro-Farage, pro-Trump, anti-establishment, anti-open borders, anti-corporatism".[70][71] Banks believes that Leave.EU's 800,000 Twitter followers will drive traffic towards the website.[69] In the morning of 19 January, Westmonster's Twitter account had gained more than 2,500 followers.[72]

Owners[edit]

Westmonster is co-owned by Arron Banks and Michael Heaver, former press adviser to Nigel Farage.[68][69]

The official registered owners of the site are Heaver, who owns 50% of the website and is a daily editor,[68] and Better for the Country Ltd. Better for the Country Ltd is the company that ran Leave.EU (one of two main pro-Brexit campaigns, affiliated to Farage) and is directed by Leave.EU's chief executive, Elizabeth Bilney. Better for the Country Ltd is also registered to the same address as Westmonster.

Early contributors and style[edit]

Westmonster was launched 19 January 2017, one day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.[68] Its welcome message stated that the political establishment had "taken one hell of a beating" in 2016, adding that "2017 might just be even bigger".[72] The timing of this launch was seen as sign that the anti-establishment media which helped Trump to gain power was arriving in the UK, according to BBC News' media editor Amol Rajan.[68]

Although primarily a news aggregator website akin to the Drudge Report, Westmonster does plan to publish original content[68][69] and enlist the support of celebrities and backbench MPs.[72] Early contributions to the website include the a piece written by Nigel Farage claiming that the "political establishment" of the United Kingdom had not woken up to European populist movements, as well as articles showing majority British support for a burka ban and attacking "remoaners" for "trying to subvert the will of the people".[72]

References[edit]

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