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Brexit: Arron Banks dines with DUP after MPs' grilling

By David Hughes

The founder of the Leave.EU Brexit campaign and his chief spin doctor yesterday walked out of a fiery clash with a Commons committee investigating so-called "fake news" to have lunch with two DUP MPs.

Brexiteer Arron Banks will face further questions from MPs after he admitted he "led people up the garden path" during the referendum campaign.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Damian Collins said the pair admitted to Parliament that they "frequently lie", and the MPs would write to the pair to "follow up on various points raised during their evidence".

Mr Banks walked out of the occasionally ill-tempered hearing before the MPs finished their questions after the committee overran, saying the pair had a lunch appointment.

Later, DUP MP Ian Paisley posted a photo of himself with Mr Banks, spin doctor Andy Wigmore and party colleague Sammy Wilson. He wrote: "Great to catch up on a busy day with @Arron_banks and Andy Wigmore to discuss Brexit and beyond over an entertaining lunch."

Joking about recent accusations that Mr Banks had Russian links, Mr Paisley added: "Interesting to note no caviar or vodka."

Mr Banks also confirmed to MPs that the Brexit-backing group held talks with controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica and intended to use its services if it had been selected as the official Leave campaign - which it was not.

Setting out the campaign's approach, Mr Banks said: "We were not above using alternative methods to punch home our message or lead people up the garden path if we had to."

Mr Wigmore added that "the piece of advice that we got, right from the beginning, was remember referendums are not about facts, it's about emotion and you have got to tap into that emotion".

Mr Banks also addressed reports from The Sunday Times claiming he held a series of undisclosed meetings with Russian embassy officials around the time of the 2016 referendum campaign.

The paper said it saw emails showing he also discussed a potential business deal involving six Russian gold mines with ambassador Alexander Yakovenko after being introduced to him by a suspected Russian spy.

Mr Banks admitted seeing the ambassador twice, and then the mines' owner, but declined to get involved after being advised it could be "problematic".

After the hearing, Mr Collins said: "Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore themselves put on the record that they frequently lie, exaggerate, misspeak and misunderstand. So it is difficult for the committee to know if we should take all of their answers seriously when it comes to data sharing and misuse, campaign spending, and their meetings with high ranking Russian officials."

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