LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers on Monday published evidence that Brexit campaign group Leave.EU benefited from work by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy at the center of a recent storm over use of Facebook data.
Nigel Oakes, founder of SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, said the consultancy was lined up to do work with Leave.EU in the event that it was designated as the official campaign to leave the European Union, according to transcripts of interviews published by a parliamentary committee.
Oakes said that “there was no contract and no money” but that they did do work to demonstrate their capabilities. A transcript of another interview with Leave.EU official Andy Wigmore says the campaign group copied Cambridge Analytica’s methods.
“Leave.EU benefited from their work with Cambridge Analytica before the decision was made on which Leave campaign would receive the official designation for the referendum,” Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said in a statement.
Cambridge Analytica lies at the center of a storm for using data obtained from millions of Facebook users without their permission after it was hired by Donald Trump for his 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
The analytics firm is also under scrutiny over campaigning for the 2016 referendum when Britons voted to leave the European Union, a move seen by critics as a colossal historical mistake but by admirers as a vital reassertion of British sovereignty.
Oakes said Wigmore’s claim to have copied Cambridge Analytica’s techniques raised “more questions about how Leave.EU developed their database to do this, and whether consumer data from other companies they had a relationship was used to support their campaign.”
The interview transcripts were submitted by Emma Briant, an academic who interviewed figures from SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU.
In the event, “Vote Leave” beat Leave.EU to become the officially designated campaign to leave the EU ahead of Britain’s referendum, though Leave.EU continued to campaign for Brexit.
Leave.EU founder Arron Banks has said that because it did not win the designation and due to concerns about the consultancy, it did no work with Cambridge Analytica, and received no benefit in kind.
Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix told the committee in February that the firm did not work with Leave.EU, but he has been recalled for a new hearing, which will take place on Wednesday.
The lawmakers were also critical of Wigmore and Oakes for speaking in admiring terms about Nazi propaganda techniques, and said there were also questions about Cambridge Analytica’s closeness with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
“The propaganda machine of the Nazis, for instance – you take away all the hideous horror and that kind of stuff – it was very clever, the way they managed to do what they did,” Wigmore said, according to one interview transcript.
Collins said that the “extreme messaging” around immigration during the campaign meant “these statements will raise concerns that data analytics was used to target voters who were concerned about this issue, and to frighten them with messaging designed to create ‘an artificial enemy’ for them to act against.”
Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by William Maclean