People & Power

Who paid for Brexit?

People and Power investigates the curious questions about the referendum. Was the original vote to leave the EU tainted?

In June 2016, in a national referendum, the people of Britain opted by a small majority to leave the European Union. It was clear right away that it was to be a controversial decision of truly historical significance (to the United Kingdom, if not to everyone else), but few could have foreseen how it would go on to become one of the most divisive, long drawn out and consensus-shattering episodes in the country’s recent history.

Two years on, with the deadline for Brexit just a few months away, bitter political arguments are still raging about the exact terms of Britain’s departure, whether those terms should be subject to a second referendum or the whole project should be abandoned altogether. Today, as a result, the country appears to be assailed with doubt and uneasy about the future, its international reputation for competence and stability under threat, many of its people infuriated with a tortuous negotiation process that has seen the current UK government as still unable to devise a deal that will be acceptable to all of its own supporters, let alone its opponents or the country at large.

Even as this film was being prepared, the governing Conservative administration’s plans for getting final parliamentary approval for an exit agreement, painstakingly brokered with the EU, were going awry. Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to pull out of the vote at the last minute in the face of mounting evidence it would be overwhelmingly defeated and was then subjected to another trial, a vote of no confidence initiated by Eurosceptic members of her own party. She won that ballot at least, but it’s still not clear how she’ll be able to piece together a majority for a Brexit deal that will satisfy many competing shades of opinion

Indeed, had some malign adversary ever tried to dream up a scheme to unsettle the UK, to sow disquiet among its people, to undermine its economy and destabilise its relations with allies and partners, they could hardly have devised anything better.

So what then if the original vote to leave the EU was tainted? What if, instead of being a free and fair reflection of the peoples’ will, the Brexit referendum was actually influenced by dirty money and manipulated by a hostile foreign power?

It might sound far-fetched, but it’s gaining currency as an idea and certainly, curious questions about the referendum keep surfacing, prompting calls for an investigation before a final Brexit deal is done and it’s too late to make amends.

We asked veteran British investigative journalist Paul Lashmar to find out why.