MANDRAKE: Arron Banks' Brexit campaign outfit £3m in red

PUBLISHED: 17:00 07 March 2019

A mobile billboard created by Led By Donkeys containing a tweet about Arron Banks. Photograph: Led By Donkeys/Twitter.

A mobile billboard created by Led By Donkeys containing a tweet about Arron Banks. Photograph: Led By Donkeys/Twitter.

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Our diary reports of the financial woes of Better for the Country, Tory Brextremist Andrew Bridgen's problems with "truthfulness" and Jose Manuel Barroso's verdict on the Tiggers.

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Arron Banks is not letting a National Crime Agency investigation dampen his ardour for Better for the Country. New accounts, just in at Companies House, reveal that Banks has continued to bankroll the controversial outfit with £2 million in loans, but, for all his largesse, it’s now £3.3m in the red.

No detail is given in relation to turnover, but the figures suggest that demand for the naff pro-Brexit T-shirts, pens and badges being retailed on the website has been at best modest. The losses, for the year ended May 31, 2018, are £300,000 up on the £3m deficit it disclosed in its 2017 accounts. Banks’ company runs Leave EU Group’s website, which is currently urging all to “deselect shameful Tory remainers”, as well as flogging the merchandise.

Better for the Country has also provided admin support to Leave EU. It is not known if this support, though totalling £13m, is within the remit of the NCA investigation, although the Electoral Commission has confirmed that £8m loans from Banks to Better for the Country – first revealed by Mandrake – are on its agenda.

The multi-million-pound admin expenses were reported in the 2017 accounts for Better for the Country at at £611,184 for 2017, plus £12.4m for 2016. There are no new figures for Leave EU, which was £6.17m in the red at September 30, 2017. Officially, the NCA investigation concerns the entities Better for the Country and Leave.EU, as well as Banks, Elizabeth Bilney and other individuals.

Disrepute

Tory Brextremist Andrew Bridgen was disgusted when newspapers saw fit to make untrue allegations about him just over a year ago in relation to an attempt by his former wife to force him to make maintenance payments to her to which a court had ruled she was no longer entitled. “The media should show both more restraint and a greater desire for truthfulness in order to prevent the press being brought into disrepute,” Bridgen harrumphed at the time.

Bridgen’s own “desire for truthfulness” has now been brought sharply into question after the Sunday Times was forced to run a grovelling apology over the weekend to Dr Daniel Poulter, a fellow Tory MP who happened to vote Remain in the referendum. Bridgen had alleged Poulter had sexually assaulted three female MPs, but the newspaper accepted what he had said was untrue and paid Poulter “substantial damages”.

It’s elementary

Mandrake asked José Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, what he made of the Independent Group. “There are not enough of them to save you from Brexit, yet,” he said. That “yet” is significant. All eyes are now on Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader. As the wily commentator Adam Boulton pointed out over the weekend, as many as 30 Labour MPs are likely to follow Watson if he switches to the Tiggers. I trust Watson will do what is right.

Sands of time

For all that Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today programme, complains to interviewers “there’s no life outside of work”, the social butterfly would still appear to get to spread her wings occasionally.

We spotted each other at the first night of The Son at the Kiln Theatre in north London last week – a grin from me, a grimace from her – and it says a lot for the play that even though her weekdays start at 5am she remained awake to the very end.

Sleep deprivation would not, however, appear to have made her entirely oblivious to the fact the UK is scheduled to make its departure from the EU at the end of this month. “Sarah’s finally twigged it might be a good idea to explain to listeners what Brexit actually means and we’ve been answering some basic questions on the show lately about what it will mean for people when, for instance, they head off on their holidays to European countries this summer,” whispers my informant.

“At a party, Sarah chanced upon the actress Frances Barber who was somewhat bemused to be asked by her to come on the show and declaim the meaning of basic Brexit terminology such as WTO.”

It’s all too little, too late, of course, and the show’s pro-Brexit bias – embodied by John Humphrys – is likely to make the next set of listening figures pretty dire reading when they come out this summer. The show shed 800,000 listeners last time around.

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