British authorities have begun investigating whether Russia attempted to influence the British vote last year on leaving the European Union, media reported on November 2.
The British Electoral Commission in comments to The Times referred to emerging evidence in the United States that Russia may have used Facebook and other social media to sow division and influence the 2016 presidential election, allegedly buying advertisements and using “troll farms” to reach as many as 126 million Americans -- nearly half of U.S. voters.
Speculation has been mounting in Britain that Russia may have similarly sought to influence the Brexit vote. Both the British and U.S. votes were very close and featured divisive campaign rhetoric and intensive use of social media to raise public fears on such divisive issues as immigration and foreign labor.
“Clearly, we have seen the allegations about interference in the American election and it is right that we are in a dialogue with companies like Facebook to ensure that nothing like that happened here," Bob Posner, the British commission’s director of political finance and regulation, told the Times.
“Should our inquiries provide us with evidence that the existing campaigning rules about political finance may have been broken then we will undertake our own investigations as set out in our enforcement policy. If we believe other, criminal, offenses may have been committed, then these will be referred to the police for investigation,” he said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May recently told parliament: "We take very seriously issues of Russian intervention, or Russian attempts to intervene, in electoral processes or in the democratic processes of any country."
Reuters and the Times reported that the British Election Commission is investigating whether a leading anti-EU campaign financier, Arron Banks, breached referendum finance rules which required donors to be based in the United Kingdom.
The commission has not mentioned Russia in connection with its investigation, but Banks told the Times that the agency believes the money came from Russia -- a charge he strongly denied.
“They’re in a tizzy. They think it was funded by Russia,” Banks told the Times. “Of course it didn’t. It came from my bank account.”
Banks told Reuters the allegations are part of an attempt by the "Remain establishment" to discredit the Brexit result.
"Allegations of Brexit being funded by the Russians...are complete bollocks from beginning to end," Banks told Reuters in an e-mailed statement, signing off "nostrovia," a version of "na zdorovye," Russian for "cheers!"
With reporting by Reuters and The Times