Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Brexit vote manipulated, says data whistleblower

  • The UK will leave the EU next March (Photo: Paul Lloyd)

British voters in the lead up to the referendum to exit the European Union were duped by the Leave campaign, says whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

Speaking to MPs on Tuesday (27 March), the former Cambridge Analytica employee described how pro-Brexit groups like BeLeave used Canadian firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to target online voters using data possibly gleaned off Facebook.

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"I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating," he said.

The revelations and accusations come almost exactly one year before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.

Wylie said AIQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm which is accused of manipulating voter behaviour to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election.

The comments follow separate accusations that the Leave campaign may have also broken electoral laws on spending thresholds, which are capped at £7m.

The Leave campaign spent £6.77m but then allegedly received a £625,000 donation from BeLeave, a youth group. The donation was then spent on AIQ services in breach of the £7m limit.

Wylie described the spending breach as part of a "common plan" coordinated by the pro-Brexit campaign.

"If this country is on the path of an irreversible decision, we really should be confident that the basis of that decision came from a free and fair vote - and what this evidence does is it calls into question whether it was free and fair," he said.

He said AIQ won the contract shortly after he met Vote Leave's campaign director, Dominic Cummings, in late 2015.

The over-spending allegations were made by Shahmir Sanni, a former Vote Leave volunteer, and revealed in a 50-page legal opinion released by the London-based Bindmands law firm.

The opinion claims Stephen Parkinson, who is prime minister Theresa May's political secretary, knew about the overspending and links between BeLeave and AIQ.

Parkinson was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign and has since outed Sanni for being homosexual. Those revelations, says Sanni, has endangered some of his relatives in Pakistan.

Vote Leave officials have denied all the claims, noting that the British electoral commission has found no evidence of overspending. AIQ has denied any links to Cambridge Analytica as has Cambridge Analytica.

"Beyond an early-stage sales pitch to Vote Leave, Cambridge Analytica had no interaction with that group or any of their vendors," it said in a statement to the BBC.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has also declined an invitation by the MPs to explain his firm's involvement in the scandal.

EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

EU leaders at a Brussels summit demand social networks and digital platforms guarantee transparency and privacy. Their call comes amid growing backlash against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica over voter manipulation.

EU to probe UK 'election-rigging' firm

MEPs are to investigate whether UK firm Cambridge Analytica and Facebook misused private data to sway votes amid increasingly lurid revelations.

Germany pledges 'strict' laws after Facebook data breach

Germany aims to pass new laws on social media after revelations that Facebook data was used to manipulate US voters, while the EU Commission is asking the company to give information about data breaches.

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