Arron Fraser Andrew Banks
|Education||Crookham Court Manor School|
St Bartholomew's School
The Castle School
|Net worth||Reported as £100 million – £250 million (June 2018)|
Arron Fraser Andrew Banks (born 1966) is a British businessman and political donor. He is the co-founder (with Richard Tice) of the Leave.EU campaign. Banks was previously one of the largest donors to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and helped Nigel Farage’s campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
In November 2018 the National Crime Agency opened an investigation into Banks following concerns raised over the source of his funding. In September 2019, the National Crime Agency dropped its investigations into Banks and Leave.EU. The NCA found "no evidence that any criminal offences have been committed."
He has been reported to have had multiple meetings with Russian embassy officials as well as being offered business opportunities in Russia in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. He has denied any wrongdoing and said: "There was no Russian money and no interference of any type." In May 2020, The Electoral Commission, who had referred Banks to the NCA for investigation of these allegations, conceded Banks did not break electoral law during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.
Banks claimed he was suspended from UKIP in March 2017, but UKIP said his membership had "lapsed earlier in the year".
Banks was born in Cheshire, England, and raised by his mother in Basingstoke, Hampshire; his father worked as a sugar plantation manager in various African countries. From the age of 13 he attended a boarding school in Berkshire called Crookham Court, 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. He returned to Basingstoke, where he sold paintings, vacuum cleaners, and then houses.
Banks was offered a junior job at the insurance market of 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. However, in another investigation, both Norwich Union and Warren Buffett reject Banks' claim that he worked for them. Then, from an office above a bakery in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, Banks started a 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". 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). After Banks was dismissed from the company in 2012, he sold £6m worth of the shares in 2013, and received significantly more when the investment firm AnaCap Financial Partners bought Brightside the following year.
Banks was the chief executive (CEO) of Southern Rock Insurance Company in 2014, which underwrites insurance policies for the website GoSkippy.com, founded by Banks. 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.
He was previously CEO of AIM-listed Manx Financial Group from April 2008 to February 2009. 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.
Banks also owns Eldon Insurance, whose CEO Elizabeth Bilney was also in charge at Leave.EU. 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. 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. 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".
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. However, a spokesperson for Banks has denied any links to the lawyer named and denies that Banks was involved with the Papers. Banks has stated that he has a controlling interest in a diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa, and a licence to mine in Lesotho. In July 2018, Banks denied that money paid to a government minister in Lesotho was a bribe; it had been paid to guarantee diamond mining rights in Lesotho. In 2013, Banks paid £65,000 into the private bank account of Thesele Maseribane, then the Basotho minister for women's equality. Banks subsequently covered the £350,000 costs of a political campaign for Maseribane, in 2014, following a military coup in Lesotho.
Other business associations
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. 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.[needs update]
Asked if his companies paid full corporation tax, Banks said: "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." One of the UK businesses of which Banks is director, Rock Services Ltd, the name of which refers to The Rock of Gibraltar, had a turnover of £19.7m in 2013 and paid corporation tax of as little as £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. Southern Rock Insurance states on its website that it underwrites policies for the customers of GoSkippy.com, which is run by Banks.
Rock Services and Southern Rock Insurance's ultimate holding company is Rock Holdings Ltd, a company based on the Isle of Man. 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".
Political career and donations
Banks was previously a Conservative Party donor but in October 2014 decided to donate £100,000 to UKIP. In response to comments from William Hague that Banks had not been a major Conservative donor in past years, and that Hague had never heard of Banks, Banks increased his donation to £1 million to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), directly referencing Hague's interview as his reasoning. 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". Banks has been described as the "leading figure" behind the anti-EU Grassroots Out and Leave.EU, as well as the official Vote Leave campaign.
He signalled his intention to stand for UKIP in the constituency of Thornbury and Yate at the 2015 general election, 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, but later decided otherwise.
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.
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.
In August 2018, it was reported that Banks had applied to join the Conservative Party and had suggested that Leave.EU supporters do the same, with the aim of voting in the party's next leadership election. According to the report, Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU's communications director, who had also applied to join the party, announced that they had received an email welcoming them, but the Conservative Party stated that their applications had not been approved. A Conservative Party spokesman said that welcoming emails were automatic but applications were subsequently reviewed, and theirs had been rejected.
Conservative Party donations
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".
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.
Relationship with Eurosceptic organisations
In October 2014, Banks donated £1 million to the UK Independence Party and has since raised the equivalent of $11 million for the party. Conservative MP William Hague had 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." This donation was one of the largest sums of money ever received by UKIP. Banks also funded Leave.EU by the equivalent of $5 million, and has been seen as the financial backer of the Brexit campaign.
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, describing Carswell as "borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in", according to The Huffington Post.
In April 2016, Private Eye reported 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." Banks, along with property investor Richard Tice and media guru Andrew Wigmore, donated £4.3m to the group.
Possibility of "rightwing Momentum"
In September 2016, following Banks' statement that UKIP would be "dead in the water" if Diane James did not become leader, 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".
Banks was sceptical of UKIP under the leadership of Paul Nuttall. 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. Banks has also considered starting and funding a pro-Brexit, nonpartisan citizens' movement called Patriotic Alliance, based on the Five Star Movement, which would target "the 200 worst, most corrupt MPs" for deselection.
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. Banks has also claimed that Vote Leave were 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.
Following the murder of Jo Cox, Arron Banks 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", 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."
There were questions as to the source of funds he used to support Brexit and in November 2018 this was referred for criminal investigation. Banks has denied any wrongdoing and stated that he welcomes the police investigation to put an end to the allegations.
A Channel 4 investigation also appeared to point to the conclusion that Banks' Leave.EU organisation faked migrant footage and photographs of "migrants" assaulting women. The photos were never used, but the fake video went viral. Banks accused Channel 4 News journalists of creating "fake news" themselves.
Following 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. Banks' response to the information commissioner, who in 2016 fined the campaign £50,000 for sending more than half a million unsolicited text messages, was a succinct "Whatever". 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.
In November 2017, the Electoral Commission announced that it was 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.
The National Crime Agency investigated Leave.EU, Banks and Bilney, as well as other individuals and entities, following the referral of material from a second Electoral Commission investigation. The referral was announced amid concerns that Banks was not the true source of £8m donated to Leave.EU. In September 2019 the National Crime Agency said it had found no evidence of criminality after investigating a series of claims against the Brexit campaign group Leave.EU and Arron Banks. The NCA said: "It will therefore take no further action against Mr Banks, Ms Bilney, Better for the Country Ltd or Leave.EU in respect of this specific matter."
Links to Russian officials and Donald Trump campaign
From September 2015, Banks, along with Andy Wigmore, had multiple meetings with Russian officials posted at the Russian embassy in London. In November 2015, Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador, introduced Banks to a Russian businessman, which was followed by other business proposals on the part of Russians. Banks was offered a chance to invest in Russian-owned gold or diamond mines; the deal involved funding from a Russian state-owned bank, and was announced 12 days after the Brexit referendum. It is not clear if Banks invested.
For two years, Banks said his only contacts with the Russian government consisted of one "boozy lunch" with the ambassador. After The Observer reported that he had had multiple meetings at which he had been offered lucrative business deals, Banks told a parliamentary inquiry into fake news he had had "two or three" meetings. In July 2018 when pressed by The New York Times, he said there had been a fourth meeting. The Observer has seen evidence that suggests his Leave.EU campaign team met with Russian embassy officials as many as 11 times in the run-up to the EU referendum and in the two months beyond.
It has been reported that on 12 November 2016, Arron Banks had a meeting with president-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower and that upon return to London, Banks had lunch with the Russian ambassador where they discussed the Trump visit.
In August 2019 Banks was criticised by Labour MPs Tonia Antoniazzi and David Lammy after a tweet about the climate change activist Greta Thunberg as she set off on a two-week voyage in a zero carbon yacht. Banks tweeted: "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August". Tanja Bueltmann, founder of the EU Citizens' Champion campaign, also strongly criticised the tweet. Banks responded that he produced the tweet because he enjoys watching outrage, later stating: "Obviously I don't hope she encounters a freak yachting accident. I just enjoy watching the ludicrous tweeter mob following the next outrage."
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".
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. 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". In the morning of 19 January, Westmonster's Twitter account had gained more than 2,500 followers.
The official registered owners of the site are Heaver, who owns 50% of the website and is a daily editor, 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
Westmonster's welcome message stated that the political establishment had "taken one hell of a beating" in 2016, adding that "2017 might just be even bigger". 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.
Although primarily a news aggregator website akin to the Drudge Report, Westmonster does plan to publish original content and enlist the support of celebrities and backbench MPs. Early contributions to the website include a piece written by Nigel Farage stating 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 criticising "remoaners" for "trying to subvert the will of the people".
At age 21 Banks married his first wife, Caroline, with whom he has two daughters. The marriage lasted ten years.
In 2014 Banks reportedly lived in the village of Tockington near Bristol in a house with a "huge" Union flag flying over the front lawn, and owned another house overlooking a game reserve near Pretoria in South Africa.
In 2020, Banks spent 6 months in Auckland, New Zealand after the country went into lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. He has previously voiced his support for the leader of the New Zealand First Party, Winston Peters.
In popular culture
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Screenwriter James Graham has turned the campaign into a compelling story — and nailed my mannerisms