Leave.EU has become the second pro-Brexit campaign group to be drawn into an international scandal about the use of personal data in political campaigns after a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica testified that the group may have used information from an insurance company run by Arron Banks, the Ukip donor.
Brittany Kaiser, the former business development director of Cambridge Analytica, the British data analytics company at the centre of the revelations, told the UK’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday that “there is reason to believe that misuse of data was rife among the businesses and campaigns of Arron Banks.”
The accusations, which were denied by Mr Banks, came a day before Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s now-suspended chief executive, was scheduled to give evidence to the same committee. Mr Nix has denied working for political campaigns in the UK and pulled out of the Wednesday session, citing an ongoing investigation by the UK’s data protection watchdog.
Damian Collins, chair of the committee, said committee members were “minded to issue a formal summons for him to appear ”.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the data protection watchdog, confirmed that it had issued a request for information from Mr Banks at the end of last month.
In more than three hours of evidence on Tuesday, Ms Kaiser said Cambridge Analytica had carried out extensive work for Leave.EU, including at the Bristol headquarters of Eldon Insurance, one of Mr Banks’s insurance companies.
“It seemed to me that the data sets and the staff were being used for Eldon/GoSkippy [Eldon’s motor insurance brand] as well as Leave.EU in parallel,” she told lawmakers.
She added that Cambridge Analytica issued an invoice for £41,500, which Leave.EU never paid. “If the personal data of UK citizens who just wanted to buy car insurance was used by GoSkippy and Eldon insurance for political purposes, as may have been the case, people clearly did not opt in for their data to be used in this way by Leave.EU,” she said.
Leave.EU, which was funded by Mr Banks, rejected the allegations. In a statement it said: “Eldon shared no data with anyone and to suggest they did is again another lie to attack Arron Banks and Leave.EU directly.”
The Electoral Commission and the ICO are both investigating the campaign group.
Ms Kaiser’s allegations will raise questions about the way data were used to target British voters before the Brexit referendum. They come after Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, admitted that more than a million of the social network’s UK users may have had their data passed to Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook has admitted that up to 87m users around the world had their data leaked to Cambridge Analytica following allegations from Christopher Wylie, a former employee of the data group.
Cambridge Analytica’s work in the UK came under the spotlight after Mr Wylie told lawmakers last month that the company had multiple links to AggregateIQ, a Canadian data firm that received millions of pounds from Vote Leave, the official leave campaign in the EU referendum.
Vote Leave has denied the links, as have Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ. But the group is being investigated by the Electoral Commission after whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, former treasurer of BeLeave, another Brexit campaign group, submitted evidence that Vote Leave allegedly broke campaign spending rules ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote.
Ms Kaiser said on Tuesday that Cambridge Analytica had also pitched for work with the Scottish National party, which has campaigned for Scotland to leave the UK.
The SNP said it had never worked with Cambridge Analytica but that an external consultant had one meeting with the group in London. “His assessment was that they were ‘a bunch of cowboys’, which turned out to be true. No further meetings were held,” a spokesperson said.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said on Tuesday that the latest revelations from Ms Kaiser were “damning”.
“Indeed the potential wrongdoing we’re seeing here appears so widespread that it calls into question the fairness of the referendum, and makes the case for a people’s vote on the EU deal even stronger.”
Additional reporting by Henry Mance