- 30 March 2018
- Posted in: Science & Technology, Planning & Development
Every fortnight Open Forum Events will be collating the Brexit news stories making waves at home and on the Continent into a five-item newsletter.
Cambridge Analytica Scandal Engulfs Brexit
A scandal that has compounded questions about Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election and wiped $60bn off Facebook’s share price can now add the Vote Leave campaign to the growing list of casualties left in its wake.
Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who acted as treasurer and secretary for the BeLeave campaign group alleges that Vote Leave, spearheaded by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, manipulated electoral spending rules through donations made to BeLeave and other organisations.
British electoral law prohibits co-ordination between different campaign organisations and imposes spending limits on all groups. If campaign groups strategise or coordinate together, they must adhere to a shared spending cap.
Sanni, in an interview with the Observer, claimed that £625,000 in donations were made to BeLeave in the final stages of the referendum campaign, but that the money was never intended to be spent by BeLeave: “I was the treasurer and secretary of BeLeave and I never saw the money. I had no control of it. It was Vote Leave who decided everything.
Sanni alleges that Vote Leave dictated how the donation to BeLeave was spent; and that most of the £625,000 went to AggregateIQ, a Canadian firm linked to Cambridge Analytica. Additionally, Sanni claims that subsequent to the Electoral Commission launching an investigation into the expenditure of Vote Leave and BeLeave, Victoria Woodcock, chief operating officer of Vote Leave, poured through a Google Drive shared between the two campaign groups and removed herself and two other Vote Leave directors from more than 100 files.
Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who went public with the scandal linking Cambridge Analytica to Facebook’s invasive data policies, spoke about his role setting up AggregateIQ: “I helped set up AIQ in 2013… we needed someone to build Cambridge Analytica’s technology platform and manage their databases.”
In the final weeks of the Brexit referendum campaign, Vote Leave increased expenditure and barraged the 600,000 voters it categorised as ‘persuadable’ with a stream of pro-Brexit cyber-advertisements; doing enough to swing the vote and withdraw Britain from the European Union.
On the AggregateIQ website, until it was removed last week, a quote from the campaign director of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings read: “Without a doubt, the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Chief Irish Border Official Resigns for Royal Appointment
Simon Case, the civil servant responsible for negotiating a solution to the post-Brexit border issue between Ireland and Northern Ireland has left his position as Director General Northern Ireland and Ireland at the Department for Exiting the European Union; after less than a year in the position. Mr Case will be joining the Kensington Palace staff as Private Secretary to His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.
Case is an experienced civil servant that has held a diverse set of roles in Whitehall including Head of Olympic Secretariat, a temporary role within the Cabinet Office overseeing the delivery of the 2012 Olympic games in London; Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Defence, Director of Strategy at the government’s intelligence and security organisation, GCHQ, and Principal Private Secretary to both David Cameron and Theresa May for select periods of their Premierships.
Monday marked the beginning of six weeks of negotiations on the Irish border question between UK and EU officials, with the intention of finding a resolution to the issue before the next European Council summit in June. Case will be replaced by his deputy Brendan Threlfall.
Ahead of his departure from David Davis’ negotiating team, Case told the press: “Whilst I will be sorry to leave DExEU, it is a great honour to have been offered such a unique opportunity to work for His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and I look forward to serving him in the years ahead.” According to sources close to the situation, there is no connection between his decision and the state of negotiations around the Irish border.
A time-limited implementation period has been agreed, kind of…
Word broke (and the Pound rallied) ahead a joint press conference between Brexit Secretary David Davies and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier that the duo would be announcing the publication of a colour-coded text of the draft agreement for the ordered withdrawal of the UK from the EU; green highlighting items agreed upon by both sides, yellow indicating that further ratification is required, and passages not highlighted at all were still subject to discussion.
The draft agreement went some way in providing clarity around the transition (or implementation, if you so desire) period; it will end on Thursday, December 31st, 2020, the EU’s preferred end date. The UK will not participate in the decision-making process on EU policy applicable to Britain during the transition but will nonetheless be bound by single market rules. EU nationals arriving in the UK during the transition will benefit from the same rights as those that came to the UK before it. Additionally, the withdrawal agreement proposes that the regulatory alignment solution for Ireland will act as a backstop option; translated into non-legalise language, Northern Ireland will effectively remain part of the single market if no wider agreement is reached.
The most contentious matter to arise from the draft withdrawal agreement was that of the sovereignty of Scottish fishing waters. A broad coalition of Scottish Conservatives, the Scottish National Party and fishing industry leaders voiced their disapproval of the draft and its apparent contradiction of the promises made to ‘take back control’ of Scottish fishing waters (and pretty much everything else) in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. In response to the news that Scottish fishermen would continue to abide by Brussels’ quotas until 2021, one Scottish MP speaking anonymously stated: ”It’s the position of the Scottish Conservative Group that if we don’t get a guarantee of full control of UK waters after the implementation period is over, then we will be prepared to vote down the final EU bill.”
Pressed on whether that meant the Scottish Tories were prepared to bring down Theresa May’s government over the issue: “That’s how seriously we’re taking the issue.”
Britain Retracts Commitment to Lead EU Defence Force
In a letter to General Mikhail Kostarakos, Chairman of the EU military committee, the UK has withdrawn its offer to lead a 1,500-strong battle-ready EU military force during the second half of 2019.
The EU member state leading the battle group rotates every sixth months, with the UK scheduled to take the helm in the final six months of next year. The decision to withdraw comes at a potentially embarrassing time for Britain given the strong support the government has received from its counterparts in Europe amid the recent breakdown in diplomatic relations with Russia; subsequent to the deployment of the Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury that the government has attributed to the Kremlin.
Additionally, the move calls into question Theresa May’s ‘unconditional’ commitment to European Security. Author of the letter, Britain’s Lieutenant General George Norton reinforced the Prime Minister’s pledge despite the intent to withdraw, stating: “Our Prime Minister’s unconditional commitment to European security of course stands, but the offer of a battlegroup in the period immediately following our exit strikes us as an unnecessary complication.”
Post-Brexit British Passports to be Made in the EU to Cut Costs
Pressure is building on the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, following the Home Office’s decision to award a five-year £490m contract to produce post-Brexit passports to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto over the British company De La Rue. A spokesperson for the Home Office attributed the decision to saving taxpayers £120m over the course of the contract; as one might expect, Brexiteers dubbed the move “humiliating”, “perverse” “symbolically completely wrong” and according to Liz Twist, whose constituency includes De La Rue’s Gateshead factory “the irony of this decision isn’t lost on me or my constituents.”
The Home Office has said that should Gemalto produce the passports, in addition to cutting costs, the decision would lead to the creation of around 70 UK-based jobs in the firm’s Fareham (Hampshire) and Bury (Lancashire) outposts. In stark contrast, Martin Sutherland, chief executive of De La Rue featured on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme; affirming his intention to appeal the verdict and refusing to guarantee that the decision will not lead to job losses at the company’s Gateshead factory that has been producing the current burgundy UK passports.
The Liberal Democrats Brexit spokesman Tom Brake summarised the blue passport saga: “First it was established that we did not have to leave the EU to have blue passports. Now we learn that the passports will be printed by a foreign company.”