The Russian Brexit Plot That Wasn’t

Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. How many time have you heard that over the past four years?

But what about British disinformation?

Much of the current Russia paranoia began with the claims that Donald Trump was recruited by Russian intelligence years ago as a sleeper agent, and then given a leg-up into the presidency of the United States with the help of the GRU. The claims of ‘collusion’ were repeated over and over, and yet at the end of the day none of them could be substantiated. And where did it all start? In the now notorious dossier assembled by former British spook Christopher Steele.

Steele, it has now been revealed, got his information from a guy called Igor Danchenko. He in his turn got a lot of it from a former classmate, Olga Galkina, described as an alcoholic ‘disgruntled PR executive living in Cyprus’, and as such obviously a well-informed source with intimate knowledge of the Kremlin’s innermost secrets.

In short, the Steele dossier was a load of hokum, commissioned by a British Black PR operative and then fabricated by some random Russian émigrés with no access to anything of value. And yet, millions believed it.

And then, we have the story of Brexit. Ever since the 2016 referendum which resulted in Britain leaving the European Union, we have been repeatedly told that the victory of the Leave campaign was made possible by ‘Russian interference’. Most significantly, it was claimed that the Russian government illicitly funded the Leave campaign by funneling money through the campaign’s most significant financial backer, businessman Arron Banks.

Leading the charge against Russia and Banks was journalist Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer (as the Sunday version of The Guardian is known). ‘We know that the Russian government offered money to Arron Banks’, she said. ‘I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government’, she added, ‘I say he lied about his contact with the Russian government. Because he did.’

But it turns out that it was Cadwalladr who had a tricky relationship with the truth. Angered by her assertions, Arron Banks sued her for libel. Three weeks ago, she publicly backed down from one of her accusations. ‘On 22 Oct 2020,’ she said, ‘I tweeted that Arron had been found to have broken the law. I accept he has not. I regret making this false statement, which I have deleted. I undertake not to repeat it. I apologise to Arron for the upset and distress caused.’

This week Cadwalladr went further. The judge in the libel trial ruled that the meaning of her statement that Banks had lied about his relationship with the Russians was that he had lied about taking money from Russia, and that she had intended this as a statement of fact, not a call for further investigation. In the face of this judgement, Cadwalladr withdrew her ‘truth’ defence and has been ordered to pay Banks’ costs relating to this aspect of the case. In this way she in effect conceded that she was not willing to defend as fact the proposition that Russia financed Leave via Banks. While Cadwalladr continues to fight the case using a ‘public interest’ defence, the withdrawal of the truth argument is a dramatic concession.

The Banks story is not the only problematic aspect of Cadwalladr’s reporting. The journalist earned international plaudits and a prestigious Orwell prize for her report on how the British firm Cambridge Analytica supposedly used big data dredged up out of Facebook to help both the Leave campaign and Donald Trump win victories in 2016. This too had a Russian connection. In a 2018 article for The Observer Cadwalladr described how, ‘Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties a Russian university. … Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with … also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.’

Others jumped on the Russia-Cambridge connection. ‘The Facebook data farmed by Cambridge Analytica was accessed from Russia’, claimed British MP Damien Collins, head of the House of Commons Select Committee for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. In this capacity, he then published a report outlining allegations of Russian propaganda and meddling in British affairs, including unsubstantiated insinuations that Russian money had influenced the Brexit campaign via Mr Banks.

And yet, all this was false too. The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) spent over two years investigating Cambridge Analytica, including its alleged role in the Brexit referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and its supposed ties to Russian government influence operations. Having completed its investigation, the ICO reported that apart from a single Russian IP address in data connected to Cambridge Analytica, it had found no evidence of Russian involvement with the company. Moreover, it concluded that claims of the company’s enormous influence were ‘hype’, unjustified by the facts.

In other words, just like the Steele dossier, the whole story about Russia influencing the outcome of the Brexit referendum was made-up nonsense.

And yet, it has had an enormous influence. The allegations that Russia ‘interfered’ in Brexit have been repeated again and again – in parliamentary reports, newspaper articles, scholarly journals, books, social media, and so on. Despite their falsehood, they have enjoyed a spread and influence that Russian ‘meddlers’ could only dream of.

Will the peddlers of British disinformation repent? Will they now pen scores of articles admitting that they were wrong? Will they give evidence to parliament denouncing the scourge of false stories about Russia emanating from the British media and MPs?

Of course not. Ms Cadwalladr’s humiliation will get a few lines buried somewhere deep in some newspapers’ inner pages, and will then be forgotten. Meanwhile, the original claims will remain uncorrected in the many documents that repeat them, and the myth of Russian interference in Brexit will trundle on as a basis for denouncing the threat emanating from the East. The damage has been done. Ms Cadwalladr has been discredited, but someone else will soon be found to pick up the torch.

29 thoughts on “The Russian Brexit Plot That Wasn’t”

  1. The question is – who is wagging the dog?

    Is it the USA by establishing a common front with Europe against the new axis of evil – China, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Syria or is it the “deep state” composed of the various MI agencies who push the USA in a by the UK desired direction?

    The Grauniad – the official paper of the MI agencies – provides a fine example of the latter: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/13/british-spies-first-to-spot-trump-team-links-russia

    Liked by 2 people

    1. peter, It is no coincidence that all Axis of Evil countries you list above are the only remaining nations on this planet which have managed to maintain a shred of national sovereignty. Everybody else has been absorbed into The Matrix. Sadly.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This all ties in with the Integrity Initiative- their job was to put stories of this nature into the media to be picked up by other media – and quoted as truth.

    Carole Cadwalladre is now writing about the widespread attacks on female journalists…in order to deflect any critics of her conduct.

    Identity politics to the rescue!

    Journalists as political activists bring the profession into disrepute. There is more and more of this type of behaviour in the media in general.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well, all the more reason to be thankful for someone like esteemed Dr. Robinson! Links to his posts provide us with a rather unique way to demonstrate that sane, handshakable Western experts don’t buy all this nonsense. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Links to his posts provide us with a rather unique way to demonstrate that sane, handshakable Western experts don’t buy all this nonsense.”

      Prof is not “handshakable” – he’s been to RT 😉

      “Happy Thanksgiving!”

      […]

      He’s a Canadian 🙂

      Like

      1. Prof is not “handshakable” – he’s been to RT…there are a lot of non-handshakable folks. BOJO’s dad, Galloway, Hedges, Salmond, McGovern, Murray, Pilger, Kiriakou, Camp, Stone dad and son, Assange, Lauria, the Venturas…….

        Like

      2. Yes, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Each year there are more and more of us who thank God that we are not Americans.

        Like

  4. The case is proceeding to trial. Banks had to drop 2/3 of his charges. I think we should wait for that before passing judgement on Carole Cadwalladr. We know that the Vote Leave campaign broke election law on spending and engaged in great disinformation and that Banks has a number of questionable dealings in Russia – but whether this was connected to the Brexit campaign has always been very doubtful. However, it is true that Sputnik and RT, disgracefully, did not give the full context to Carole Cadwalladr’s statement or that the case is proceeding to trial, or that Banks had to drop 2/3 of his charges.

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    1. Cadwalladr is continuing to defend the suit using the ‘public interest’ defence – in other words, she’s maintaining that it was in the public interest to say what she did about Banks even though it wasn’t true. It’s kind of an odd suggestion that it can be in the public interest to publish stuff which damages someone’s reputation for which you can’t provide evidence, but I assume there’s some arcane legal argument or precedent there which her lawyers will try to use. But the key point is that she has dropped the defence of truth. Neither she nor anybody else can now legitimately argue that Banks did in fact act as a conduit for Russian money to the Leave campaign.

      Vote Leave was indeed fined for breaking the law on spending limits. But that has nothing to do with Russia and therefore isn’t relevant to my argument.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am not entirely disagreeing with you professor but in view of the fact the Banks had to drop 2/3 of his charges – a number of things she stated were true. The facts will be more definitively adjudicated next year. Where I do agree is that Cadwalladr messed up some otherwise very good reporting by shrieking off into the jungle looking for phantom Russians because she and others do not want to confront that the subversion of western democracy is due to mainstream conservative parties and their will to power not any Russians. To people look for the most tenuous links and seize on those and then, as you often point out, say if it is Russian it must be the Russian federal government. This is how $200,000 spent by the Russians to yuck it up in the comments section on facebook became ‘Russian interference in the US election’ when the idea that this was at all decisive or even of marginal import is absurd.

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      2. I’ve changed one of the paragraphs in the article to more accurately reflect what’s happened in the court case. But the basic point is the same.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. The links were weak. A lot of assumptions, hints. The French/German ARTE channel had a documentary based on her work too.To the extent I recall they didn’t follow here down the Russian embassy connection path. Concerning Money. They hinted that there may have been media cooperation based on shared interests. The famous St. Petersburg troll army? Russian media?.. And yes, a character whose money sources one doesn’t quite understand, since they are hidden behind shells or mailboxes abroad. Nothing new, really, is it? …

      Personally it felt the Brits followed the US signals. Would they have looked closer hadn’t their US colleagues paved the way? No harm meant.

      Ok the NYT 4/5 series broadcast, I didn’t even manage to watch. Did maybe make it to two thirds of the second part. Then gave up.

      Recent RT article?

      Like

  5. The Russiagate – Mueller Investigation’s Star Witness. Watch and weep.

    What disgusted me most about the whole matter that surfaced were Manaford’s Ukrainian activities. Has been going on for quite some time, no matter which party. Was quite easy to see, there wasn’t this Russia-connection they were trying to prove. Manafort in his own self-interested ways was strictly following long term American strategy.

    We are all part of the US inner struggle, if we like it or not. One US-UK close relationship angle surfaces in the present Hunter-Biden Ukraine-China-Business laptop affair, including a lot of distracting matter. Disinformation/Opposition Research, once again.

    I am deeply disgusted by American meddling, especially here in Europe. Since that’s what concerns me most. .

    Aaron Maté interviews Rick Gates.
    https://thegrayzone.com/2020/11/18/key-mueller-witness-exposes-key-russiagate-lies/

    2nd presidential debate, Trump
    Donald Trump: (00:00)
    They both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher to Russia between the sanctions, nobody tougher than me on Russia, between the sanctions, between all of what I’ve done with NATO. I’ve got the NATO countries to put up an extra $130 billion going to $420 billion a year. That’s to guard against Russia. I sold, while he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.
    Donald Trump: (00:33)
    And I’ll tell you, they were so bad. They took over the submarine port, you remember that very well, during your term, during you and Barack Obama. They took over a big part of what should have been Ukraine.

    I guess the Russian Black Sean Fleet may be on his mind here. Not that the master of the universe can be bothered with details.

    ***********************************
    Brian Cloughley, Strategic Culture Foundation, November 24, 2020
    It was reported that on 17 November, “two US B-1B Lancer bombers… entered China’s air defence identification zone over the East China Sea. The US regularly conducts surveillance flights in the region using military spy planes. Sending B-1B bombers close to China’s coast is likely a show of force meant to send a message to Beijing.” Of course it was. And it could hardly be more ironic that the gauntlet of challenge was thrown down at the very moment China was demonstrating to the nations of the region that it was most actively seeking trade cooperation. Two days later the U.S. Army officially opened its new “forward headquarters” in Poland, “to provide more support to an expanding Army mission in Europe.”

    Meanwhile, the GOP has discovered an indirect link between Hunter-China and Russia. ,,, The show must go on.

    Liked by 1 person

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