EU referendum result may not be legitimate due to Facebook data scandal, warns MEP

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An MEP has questioned the legitimacy of the EU referendum result in the wake of the Facebook data scandal.

Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South West of England, has written to the Electoral Commission following the revelation that British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of a storm for using data obtained from millions of Facebook users.

In the run up to the historic Brexit vote, the Leave.EU group claimed they were working with the analytics firm, which they have since denied.

In her letter, Molly Scott Cato writes: ‘The more we learn about the highly dubious and possibly downright illegal ways in which the Leave campaign manipulated voters, the less and less robust the result of the EU referendum appears.

‘Unlike the US, the investigations into electoral tampering in the UK are taking place behind closed doors so I am asking the Electoral Commission to tell us what they know. I am also questioning at what point interference in an election or referendum makes a result illegitimate.’

 

 

Cato, a former Professor of Economics who speaks for the Green Party on finance issues, adds: ‘Leaving the EU represents the greatest political, social and economic upheaval this country has faced in my lifetime. If it is found that there was significant manipulation during the referendum campaign we must raise questions about whether such a radical step should be taken.

 

‘All this further underlines the need for a people’s poll on the final Brexit deal, and this time such a referendum must be based on accurate facts, not deliberate misinformation peddled by specialists in voter manipulation.

This poll must of course include the option of remaining in the EU.’ Parliament is investigating the links between Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU as part of an investigation into fake news.

Arron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.EU, said in a book that in October 2015 his group hired Cambridge Analytica, a company that uses ‘big data and advanced psychographics’ to influence people. In a November 2015, Leave.EU said on its website that Cambridge Analytica ‘will be helping us map the British electorate and what they believe in, enabling us to better engage with voters’.

In the same month, Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser spoke at a Leave.EU news conference. She said her organisation would be ‘running large-scale research of the nation to really understand why people are interested in staying in or out of the EU’.

In February 2016, Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix wrote in Campaign magazine that his company was working for Leave.EU.

‘We have already helped supercharge Leave.EU’s social media campaign by ensuring the right messages are getting to the right voters online,’ said Nix, who was suspended by the company this week.

Leave.EU’s communications director Andy Wigmore also said on Twitter last year that his campaign group had used the company. ‘You should use Cambridge Analytics,’ he said, adding that he could ‘highly recommend them’.

Banks says Cambridge Analytica sought work with the Leave.EU before the referendum but that ultimately it never did any – paid or otherwise – for the campaign.

‘We did have dealings with Cambridge Analytica âand they put forward a pitch that went into the designation document submitted to the electoral commission,’ Banks told Reuters.

No work was done with Cambridge Analytica because Leave.EU did not win the designation as the official leave campaign and due to concerns about the consultancy, Banks said. When asked if Leave.EU paid or accepted any services from Cambridge Analytica, Banks said: ‘No benefit in kind, no data, no nothing.’

Banks told a parliamentary committee earlier this month that when he referred to Cambridge Analytica being ‘hired’ in his book this was a reference to the intention to work them.

Nix told a parliamentary committee last month that he contacted Banks and Wigmore and their statements were not true.

The article written in the Campaign magazine was a mistake and ‘drafted by a slightly overzealous PR consultant’, he said. This ‘referenced work that we hoped and intended to undertake for the campaign. Subsequently, work was never undertaken.

‘The moment that that statement went out we were absolutely crystal clear to all the media outlets that we were not involved and that it had been released in error,’ he said.