After previously stonewalling inquiries on the matter, Leave.EU ‘bad boy’ Arron Banks has told a UK newspaper he is sending a team to New Zealand to work on Winston Peters’ NZ First campaign. Justin Giovannetti reports.
New Zealand First has hired a crew of political operators from one of the most aggressive groups in the Brexit campaign to cause “mischief, mayhem and guerrilla warfare” before the September election, according to The Daily Telegraph, the Conservative-leaning British broadsheet newspaper.
The report comes one week after The Spinoff reported that Arron Banks, the bankroller of the Brexit group Leave.EU, had become an ardent champion of New Zealand First, praising Winston Peters online. Both Banks and New Zealand First declined on numerous occasions to answer questions from The Spinoff about the nature of their relationship.
According to The Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, Christopher Hope, a six-person team from Banks’ Leave.EU has been “dispatched to Auckland” to work on New Zealand First’s campaign. They’ve reportedly been instructed to double the party’s count of MPs to 20.
Andy Wigmore, one of Banks’ main lieutenants, told the newspaper: ”I’m going to be on ground in New Zealand causing trouble – mischief, mayhem and guerrilla warfare in the New Zealand election – the bad boys are back.”
It is uncertain on what basis Wigmore intends to be “on the ground” in New Zealand. There is no known exemption to the strict border controls for political strategists or self-styled “bad boys of Brexit”.
Following the publication of the Spinoff’s story, which followed 15 attempts to contact New Zealand First, Peters tweeted: “For the benefit of the woke leftist spinoff, had they asked me, which they didn’t, I came across Arron Banks in 2016 in the UK. We have been happily sharing thoughts and ideas on international matters ever since. He’s a top bloke and we both believe that freedom matters!”
Following the tweet, New Zealand First was again contacted for comment. They did not respond.
Peters has also had praise in the past from the former head of UKIP, Nigel Farage. The two men bonded over cricket and a political platform built on opposition to immigration. Now they both share a working relationship with Banks, who helped underwrite much of Farage’s career.
Banks made his money through his ownership of insurance companies. He also owns African diamond mines. In 2017, Britain’s Sunday Times said he was worth about NZ $480 million.
Leave.EU was central to turning the Brexit vote into a question where British voters could express a grievance with the way the country was changing, under what they characterised as a smug ruling elite. Opponents saw it as a way of expressing xenophobia through the ballot box.
Banks and Peters appeal to a similar demographic, said University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis, but that doesn’t mean Banks should be invited into New Zealand’s political system.
“The form of politics that led to the Brexit vote, which Arron Banks was involved with, was typified by rampant misinformation and appealing to naked prejudice in the electorate. My view is that importing that type of politics into New Zealand would be detrimental to our democracy,” said Geddis.
Banks, whom Farage has described as “pugnacious”, wrote in his book The Bad Boys of Brexit that political campaigns should be blunt, edgy and controversial to create media attention and garner free publicity.
On June 12, a combative Peters put out a statement decrying the “woke generation” after the statue of John Hamilton was winched from the central square of the city named after the British captain. The statement was blunt, edgy and controversial.
“Why do some woke New Zealanders feel the need to mimic mindless actions imported from overseas,” asked Peters in the statement, where he shared his “disgust” with people calling for the statue’s removal. In his parting words, Peters said they need to: “Deal with it, grow up and read a book.”
The Spinoff is again seeking comment from the parties involved, and will update over the day should any response be forthcoming.