Raheem Kassam

🔥Raheem Kassam is one of the self-styled “Bad Boys of Brexit” who appeared grinning alongside Donald Trump in the infamous photo at Trump Tower – in fact, he helped set that meeting up.

His path to that moment of ‘glory’ had led him from being a Conservative activist to UKIP, where he served as chief adviser to Nigel Farage. In 2014 he was appointed London editor of Breitbart News, the extreme right-wing publication funded by Robert Mercer and run by Steve Bannon, which was credited by Farage as having “helped hugely” with Brexit. Kassam has also previously worked for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the influential lobbying group run by Vote Leave CEO Matthew Elliott.

Kassam’s career as a “journalist” began at the right-wing online magazine The Commentator, from which he was sacked for what the publication described as “gross and extreme misconduct”. His writing since then has been marked by a particular animus against Muslims. In 2017 he published his book No Go Zones: How Sharia Law Is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You, to the applause of extreme right-wingers such as Tommy Robinson (grateful, it seems, for all the positive coverage Kassam had given him). The anti-Muslim shock-jock and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was only too delighted to let Kassam plug the book on his InfoWars channel, where Kassam claimed that “there are vast swathes of Europe, and indeed here in the United States now, that are turning into enclaves for migrants…establishing their Koranic law, their Islamic rules.”

Kassam is particularly noted for the abuse he directs at those he sees as political enemies or rivals. For instance, in June 2016 he tweeted that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should have her “mouth taped shut. And her legs, so she can’t reproduce“. In January 2018, he told Sky News that London had become “a shithole” under Mayor Sadiq Khan, echoing the word used by Donald Trump to describe non-white countries.

His views are seen as extreme even by some within UKIP. Former UKIP leadership candidate Suzanne Evans, for instance, has described him as “toxic”. Kassam had probably not endeared himself to Evans by referring to her in tweets as “a wrinkly old ginger bird” and  “a rotting corpse”.

In September 2014 Kassam accompanied Farage on a trip to the US that helped connect the then UKIP leader to leading far-right ideologues and funders in that country, including Bannon and Robert Mercer. Farage reportedly later wrote that it was this that convinced him and Kassam of “the extraordinary power of online media”. According to the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, “Kassam has been widely held responsible for the implementation of the ‘shock and awful’ TV debate strategy, whereby Farage would make inflammatory, xenophobic comments – such as deploying statistics about foreigners with HIV and referring to a ‘fifth column’ of Muslims in the UK.”

In 2015, Kassam and his close associate Matthew Richardson were sacked as Farage’s advisers after UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn described them as “wrong ‘uns” who wanted to take UKIP “in a direction of some hard right ultra-aggressive American Tea Party movement.”.  O’Flynn observed that they had helped turn Farage into a “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive” man and risked turning the party into a “personality cult”.

Undeterred, in October 2016 Kassam made a bid for the UKIP leadership, describing himself as “the “Faragest of the Faragists“. He was supported in this by the party’s main funder Arron Banks, but withdrew from the contest at the last minute, perhaps realising he had little chance of winning.

His chances had not been improved by his calling for ex-members of fascist organisations such as the BNP and the English Defence League (EDL) to be admitted to the party, or by his having addressed a rally of the far-right anti-Muslim group Pegida in Birmingham earlier that year, alongside Pegida’s German founder Lutz Bachmann. Kassam has also profiled Bachmann, who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred, in glowing terms for Breitbart.

One senior UKIP source was quoted as saying: “He associates with Tommy Robinson and spoke at a Pegida rally… If someone like Kassam wanted to stand as a UKIP candidate for their local council they wouldn’t be allowed. But he’s allowed to publicly disgrace us by standing for leader.”

Kassam’s extreme views were no obstacle to his being appointed managing editor of Breitbart News – quite the opposite. This gave him a high-profile platform to pursue his far-right agenda – and to offer support to the Brexit campaign of Banks, Farage and Leave.EU. It appears that this support may have gone beyond running frequent stories attacking the EU and immigrants.

In October 2017, two whistle-blowers from within UKIP filed complaints over the “unusual arrangements” they claimed the party had made with Breitbart in the months before the referendum. They alleged that individuals paid by Breitbart were working as senior unpaid UKIP volunteers. No such support had been declared to the Electoral Commission (as the law requires) and, if the allegations were true, this would have constituted an indirect – and illegal – political donation by a foreign donor, Breitbart being an American-owned publication. The Guardian quoted UKIP sources expressing alarm at “what they viewed as a ‘deliberate strategy’ by Breitbart to wield influence over the Party in ways that emphasised views against migrants and other far-right positions”.

Michael Ashcroft

Ashcroft is a billionaire, a long-time tax-exile in Belize, and a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party who has donated millions to the party. He was also a key supporter of the Brexit campaign.

Ashcroft’s connections with Belize are significant. It was in July 2015, during “a hard night drinking” with Ashcroft in San Pedro, Belize, that Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, along with Ashcroft’s fellow Belizean businessman Andy Wigmore, “resolved to start preparing immediately for the referendum campaign”.

In 2017 Ashcroft was ranked as the 95th richest person in the UK by the Sunday Times Rich List, with wealth estimated at £1.35 billion. He moved many of his interests to Belize in the early 1990s and his complex web of companies includes many that are registered there. He now exerts considerable influence on the small country, where – as the Economist reports – his holding companies control the country’s biggest bank, Belize Bank.

According to the Guardian, Ashcroft “encouraged local politicians to pass laws between 1990 and 1992 which set up flags of convenience, and secretive offshore “international business companies” and trusts, in return for paying annual registration fees to the government.” This all helped create business for Ashcroft’s bank, to which the operation of Belize’s offshore registry was subcontracted. The newspaper quotes from a report into the resulting state of affairs by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):

“Some members of the government and the business community are sceptical regarding the act’s real benefits to the country. They see some benefits going to lawyers and accountants associated with Belize Bank, but little benefit to the rest of the country. It is … a mechanism whereby illicit activities could be disguised by shrewd operators. The secrecy of information would allow drug traffickers freedom in establishment of companies under the IBC act to conceal or transfer drug proceeds. The confidentiality of companies, names, officers and account information makes it almost impossible … to investigate any allegations of illegal activities.”

In 1999, Labour MP Peter Bradley raised questions about Ashcroft in the House of Commons. He said:

“Mr Ashcroft is a man whom our former high commissioner in Belize, Mr. David Mackilligin, described last week as ‘an object of suspicion to governments in the area, especially the Americans who have to cope with constant war against drug-runners and money-launderers’.

Bradley went on to write, in a letter that appeared in The Times: 

“He cannot escape responsibility for establishing a system that makes Belize a much more tempting target for drug-runners than it would be and for resisting efforts to regulate it properly in order presumably to maximise his company’s profit.”

Ashscroft denied that he had any involvement in any illegal activities and brought a libel action against the Sunday Times, which had published a piece investigating his affairs. He claimed damages against the newspaper of up to £100m. The case was settled out of court and the newspaper was forced to publish a retraction. However, no damages were paid and nor did the newspaper pay Ashcroft’s costs.

Ashcroft has been one of the biggest donors to the Conservative Party in recent history, transferring donations of £5.1m between 2003 and 2008 via his company Bearwood Corporate Services. These donations, which involved a complex series of transactions through offshore companies, were the subject of an investigation by the Electoral Commission. It found no law had been broken. However, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott warned: “Democracy is in danger if Lord Ashcroft has been pouring millions into Conservative campaigns through an offshore pipeline from a Caribbean tax haven.”

Ashcroft’s business practices in the UK have also come in for intense criticism. In 2003, a High Court Judge said of the tactics he had used during the takeover of another company:

“It is the kind of thing which brings the City into disrepute … the purpose of the City is to raise finance to enable companies to develop businesses for their own and the country’s well-being. Where matters are dealt with in speculation and profits are made, which are then gathered offshore, when there is no merit and no exposure to the kind of risks associated with companies, that to my mind is not legitimate.”  He also criticised Ashcroft’s failure to come to court to give evidence, saying the aim had been to reveal “as little as possible about the Ashcroft empire and its connections”.

Ashcroft has a particular dislike of the regulations the EU places on business. The day before the referendum in 2016, he warned that “damaging new rules are already planned concerning ports, the art market, online television, electrical appliances and VAT. ”  As it happens, in 2010 Ashcroft had been accused of avoiding VAT on opinion polls he commissioned for the Conservatives by paying for these through a company he owned in Belize.

Being resident in Belize has not been without its downside for Ashcroft. He was initially rejected for a peerage in 1999 by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee on the grounds that he spent most of his time abroad in Belize and Florida and conducted almost all of his financial affairs overseas. When he was made a Conservative peer the following year, Ashcroft made a written undertaking giving his “clear and unequivocal assurance” that he had decided to take up “permanent residence in the UK again before the end of this calendar year”. However, in 2010 he was forced to admit that he had not in fact done this and was still a “non-dom”.

He promised at that time that he would finally be taking up residence in the UK – a change in the law would have required him to give up his peerage otherwise. But documents leaked in the Paradise Papers scandal of 2017 showed that Ashcroft remained a domicile of Belize even after 2010. They also showed that he had been receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from an offshore trust in Bermuda.

By this time, however, Ashcroft had retired from the Lords, saying that “my other activities do not permit me to devote the time that membership of the Lords properly requires”.

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Owen Paterson

Owen Paterson is a former cabinet minister, climate change “sceptic” and hard-line Brexiter.

A regulation burner through and through, he has spent much of his political life railing against “EU red tape”, seeing this as an integral part of his neo-liberal Thatcherite ideology. Paterson’s war on “red tape” has dovetailed neatly with his refusal to accept well-established climate science.  He opposes government support for renewable energy but backs fracking to the hilt, and when his views on climate change have been challenged he has trotted out myth after discredited myth.

He appears to have used his role as Environment Secretary in Cameron’s government as an opportunity to wage ideological war on the environment. As George Monbiot has observed, it was Paterson who:

“insisted on a mass cull of badgers against scientific advice, who stripped away the last regulations protecting the soil from erosion, who believed that “the purpose of waterways is to get rid of water,” who sought to turn our rivers into featureless gutters, and who championed the pesticides that appear to be destroying bees and other animals.”

Bizarrely, he has claimed that “we will use taking back control of our borders to better protect our native fauna and flora”, giving as examples protection against “the signal crayfish and the alien grey squirrel”. Both species were introduced from America, a country Paterson says will offer a “very big and exciting” new trade deal.

Owen Paterson claims to be one of three founding MPs of the Vote Leave referendum campaign group who developed the “take back control” of our laws, money and  borders message. Along with “hard” Brexiters such as Farage, Banks and Tice, he sees a “no deal WTO rules” Brexit as desirable, saying that “it is an ineluctable certainty that we’re going to end up with WTO at the end of this.”

He also believes that “an abrupt departure from the EU would give the UK the opportunity to strike trade deals with fast-growing economies outside the EU and would generate reduced food prices, since the UK would no longer have to impose the EU’s high tariffs against non-EU agricultural goods.” The NFU’s policy director Martin Haworth has described this as “the absolute nightmare scenario” for British farmers:

“We’d be outside the EU, we’d lose access to the single market, we’d have lower tariff barriers so food prices would drop and farmers’ prices would come down, and our farmers wouldn’t be subsidised, whereas our competitors would be, both in Europe and in large parts of the world.”

Paterson stunned a meeting of Cameron’s coalition cabinet by suggesting that EU workers who currently do much hard and essential farming work in Britain should be replaced by pensioners. He claimed they would be happy to pick fruit and vegetables for less than the minimum wage. One Whitehall official, reported his cabinet colleague David Laws, “tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a laugh”.

Paterson’s comments have frequently, as the Independent observes, “caused some degree of bafflement and derision.”

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Richard Tice

🔥Richard Tice is a multi-millionaire property developer and co-founder with Arron Banks of Leave.EU. Since the referendum, he has continued to push for a hard Brexit as co-chair of Leave Means Leave.

Tice is CEO of the asset management group Quidnet Capital LLP, which has around £500 million of property under management. The company’s website boasts that he “has over 27 years experience in international real estate markets covering physical property, corporate activity, financing and distressed debt in both the quoted and unquoted sectors”. It also notes that Tice “ran his own distressed debt advisory business until late 2009”.

“Distressed debt” is a branch of what many see as “vulture capitalism“, and involves buying up companies that have run into trouble, often because of dire economic conditions. The Guardian has described how this typically works:

“The funds circle struggling firms and buy their debt at a discount to gain control of the business. Usually hedge funds or proprietary desks at large investment banks, the funds may turn their debt into equity in a restructuring, gaining a stake or full control of the firm, or sell the assets in a liquidation, receiving a higher price for the debt than they paid for it.”

Many might think that the economic chaos caused by Brexit will create the ideal conditions for “distressed debt” specialists such as Tice.

Tice, however, prefers to maintain that Brexit is a revolt against the “metropolitan liberal elite” who are “completely oblivious to the concerns of millions of hard-working British families across the country”.

Tice
Extract from Private Eye

Some of Tice’s property developments have attracted unfavourable attention. With the Earl of Bathurst, he is a director of Bathurst Development Limited, which plans to build thousands of houses on the edge of Cirencester, increasing the size of the town by 40%. Land for the proposed Chesterton development is held by a trust registered in Bermuda – a tax haven – enabling Bathurst Development to avoid paying a very large amount of capital gains tax on the scheme. Lord Bathurst has defended this dodge by saying that when the avoided tax is spread across the UK to the Outer Hebrides “it won’t be very much”.

Until 2014, Tice was CEO of CLS Holdings. One of its lucrative projects (before Tice became CEO) was a major leisure/retail development in Vauxhall that was warmly supported by Tice’s fellow Brexit cheerleader, the constituency’s Labour MP Kate Hoey. Tice’s friendship with Hoey goes back 20 years, according to Arron Banks’ book.  He led two major planning applications for over 1.5 million sq ft of property in Vauxhall, including for two 50-storey residential towers.

As co-chair of Leave Means Leave, Tice has urged Theresa May’s government not to agree any kind of transitional arrangement with the EU, which he claims is “completely unnecessary”, and demanded that the UK leave the Single Market “no later than two years after triggering Article 50”. In December 2017 he co-wrote an open letter to May’s Cabinet insisting that it must “break with EU red tape”, and that “it should be non-negotiable that the UK is free to diverge from EU rules and regulations when it leaves the EU on March 29th 2019.”

In June 2017 Tice announced that he was setting up a new, £100m investment trust. “I would have done [this] had Brexit not happened,” he said. “But for all the doomsayers who think the world is going to end, I think the opportunities are growing.”

For certain types of ultra-wealthy investor, there’s little doubt that Brexit will offer very rich pickings indeed.

Photo source: http://bit.ly/2rJyqy0

Boris Johnson

🔥🇷🇺 As a former Mayor of London, prolific journalist and now Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson is one of the highest-profile Brexit cheerleaders.

Yet just a few weeks before coming out as a Brexiter in 2016, Johnson wrote in his Telegraph column that “leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country—low skills, low social mobility, low investment, etc—that have nothing to do with Europe”.

Many view Johnson’s jumping aboard the Brexit bandwagon as an act not of principle but of naked political opportunism. Johnson’s path to becoming the Vote Leave poster boy was far from straightforward. Johnson, the son of an MEP himself, went to school in Brussels and was based there for years as the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. Many see Johnson as having a certain affinity with the EU and, according to The Guardian, Johnson himself once declared that:

“I’m rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.”

This didn’t stop him, however, building up a significant record of spreading EU myths (including the infamous myth that the EU wanted to ban prawn cocktail crisps).

As a determined regulation burner, Johnson has frequently made lurid claims about how “EU bureaucracy has gone mad”. In 2016, he trotted out some of these well-worn myths to a Treasury Select Committee looking into the costs and benefits of Britain’s membership of the EU, prompting its chair to interrupt him with the words: “This is all very interesting, Boris. Except none of it is really true, is it?”

He is one of few politicians who still stands by the infamous Brexit bus slogan, insisting that “Britain will still claw back £350m a week after leaving the EU, with much of that money preferably being spent on the NHS.” The absurdity of this figure has been pointed out by the UK Statistics Authority and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and even Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage have now distanced themselves from it.

On Russian involvement in Brexit, Johnson claimed that he hadn’t “seen a sausage” of evidence to suggest that this occured. As journalist Carole Cadwalladr put it, he “cannot have been looking very hard“.

We know that in November 2017 Johnson was one of three ministers targeted by people linked to the FBI investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Moscow. An email from the “London professor” (subsequently identified as Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud) who was named in FBI indictments and who has high-level connections to the Russian state, said he would be “meeting Boris Johnson for dinner re Brexit”. Later, photos emerged of Johnson and Mifsud at dinner. As former Labour Cabinet Minister Ben Bradshaw said: “It’s inconceivable that the FBI didn’t tell their UK counterparts about Mifsud … so how was this allowed to happen?”

Less than a month after saying he had seen no sign of Russian meddling in British politics, in December 2017 Johnson told a Moscow press conference that there was in fact “abundant evidence” and that he would “not stand for it” – though he also asserted that attempts to influence the referendum result “had fallen flat”. To have admitted otherwise would have been somewhat embarrassing for a man who had thrown in his lot with the Bad Boys of Brexit.

Is it possible this Minister doth protest too much?

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Matt Ridley

💰🔥Matt Ridley is a discredited former banker, journalist, and climate change denier. His was one of the most prominent voices promoting Brexit, not least in columns in the  Murdoch-owned Times and Sun, stalwarts of the Brexit Syndicate. Associated with the Vote Leave end of the campaign, he also appeared on platforms with the pro-Brexit Business for Britain group.

Like Owen Paterson and many other leading Leave campaigners, Ridley is a vociferous opponent of action on climate change and a keen advocate of the continued use of fossil fuels. He has frequently tried to cast doubt on the science of global warming. He is on the “Academic Advisory Council” of Nigel Lawson’s climate “sceptic” Global Warming Policy Foundation, a policy adviser for Owen Paterson’s UK2020 thinktank (both based at 55 Tufton Street, also the original HQ of Vote Leave before it moved to larger premises), and has used his seat in the House of Lords to oppose the development of renewable wind energy.

By chance, Ridley also enjoys a substantial income from two open-cast coal mines on his large estate in Northumbria, which are owned by his family trust – together these are estimated to contain coal worth £336 million.

Ridley is a big supporter of fracking. In 2014 he was found to have breached the Lords’ Code of Conduct after he neglected to mention during a debate on the energy bill that he has a personal interest in Weir Group, which makes fracking equipment.

Despite being frequently criticised by climate scientists for his misleading writing on climate change, Ridley casts himself as an expert on science (he has a PhD in the mating habits of pheasants – yes, really). He has claimed that “red tape” is stifling science in the EU, giving as one example the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides known to be harmful to bees.

In April 2016 he surprised many scientists by informing them in his Times column that “British scientists would be better off out of the EU”. All the evidence suggests that on this – as on much else – British scientists beg to differ with Ridley.

Ridley’s other main claim to fame stems from his chairmanship of Northern Rock, the bank that played an infamous role in the 2007 financial crisis. Members of the Treasury Select Committee that looked into these events criticised him, along with the bank’s CEO, for “damaging the good name of British banking”.

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