Brexit leaders may have swung referendum by cheating, says Cambridge Analytica whistleblower

“There could have been a different outcome of the referendum, if there had not been, in my view, cheating."

Leaders of the U.K.'s official Brexit campaign may have stolen the referendum by cheating, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told British lawmakers Tuesday.

Wylie made the claim during his official testimony before the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The former employee of the controversial data company was asked to comment on allegations made by another whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, that the official “Vote Leave” campaign deliberately breached an official spending cap by funnelling extra payments through the Canadian firm AggregateIQ, which allegedly has links to Cambridge Analytica.

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Wylie said that the extra spending, which he described as “cheating,” could credibly have swung the referendum for the “Leave” campaign.

“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum, if there had not been, in my view, cheating," he said. He said that Vote Leave and other pro-Brexit groups had a common plan to get around spending caps, and all used AggregateIQ to target swing voters.

Wylie said that AggregateIQ’s “conversion rates” for digital targeting during the 2016 E.U. referendum campaign were much higher than for standard digital marketing campaigns, meaning the company’s efforts could have been highly effective in persuading swing voters to choose “Leave.”

AggregateIQ insists it is a separate entity to Cambridge Analytica, but Wylie said these claims were “weasel words.” He called AggregateIQ a “franchise” of Cambridge Analytica and said he believed it had used data from Cambridge Analytica to target voters during the closely-fought referendum campaign.

“You can't have targeting software that doesn't access the database,” he said. “Cambridge Analytica would have a database and AIQ would access that database, otherwise the software wouldn't work.”

Cambridge Analytica has denied Wylie’s allegations, saying the whistleblower had stopped working for the company in July 2014, and had “no direct knowledge of our work or practices since.” Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings has denied the allegations against the group.

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The alleged influence of Cambridge Analytica on the Brexit referendum has been under scrutiny since Sanni, a former volunteer on two pro-Brexit campaigns, alleged that Vote Leave had deliberately skirted the spending cap by channelling a £625,000 ($888,000) payment through AggregateIQ to a related pro-Brexit campaign, BeLeave. He claimed Vote Leave staff then attempted to delete digital evidence of their involvement in the BeLeave campaign, which under British electoral rules had to be completely separate from Vote Leave for the payment to be legal.

The allegations have brought pressure on two senior government ministers who were leading figures in Vote Leave, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to investigate what the two men knew about the relationship with AggregateIQ, or the payment to BeLeave, which could have breached British electoral law.

About one-third of Vote Leave’s official spending went through AggregateIQ. After the referendum, Cummings praised the company for its contribution, writing on the company’s website: “The Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Cover image: A man holds a banner reading "Leave the EU", prior to a Football Lads Alliance (FLA) march in Birmingham, England, Saturday, March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)