Pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU provoked a major backlash yesterday, after posting an image of Angela Merkel on their social media accounts, with the words: “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a kraut.”
The post was rightly labelled as xenophobic, and Leave.EU has been forced to apologise and delete the post.
However, while this incident caused a storm in Westminster, Leave.EU usually doesn’t get much attention. This is despite the fact Leave.EU is one of the most influential hard-right groups in Britain.
So, here are five things you should really know about the group.
1. The referendum
The group was set up in July 2015 to campaign for Leave during the EU referendum. They lost the battle to be assigned as the ‘official’ Leave campaign – a title that was given to Vote Leave, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Leave.EU has faced multiple claims of misconduct during the referendum, and it was fined £120,000 in February 2019 over data law breaches.
While Vote Leave is largely defunct, Leave.EU still campaigns actively on social media.
2. Key figures
The group is bankrolled by Arron Banks, an insurance tycoon who also donated millions of pounds to UKIP, while Nigel Farage was leader.
Farage was loosely considered to be the figurehead of Leave.EU, though he insisted at the time that he backed both Leave campaigns.
Leave.EU’s head of communications is Andy Wigmore, a key ally of both Banks and Farage. Wigmore is known as a professional provocateur, and has repeatedly targeted Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has reported on the connections between Banks, Wigmore and disgraced big data firm Cambridge Analytica.
Alongside Banks, Brexit Party Chairman Richard Tice is also a co-founder of Leave.EU.
3. Anti-immigrant rhetoric
Leave.EU has repeatedly been criticised for its vitriolic, anti-immigration rhetoric. A recent investigation by Channel 4 News found that the campaign group appeared to have staged photos of “migrants” attacking young women, shortly before the EU referendum.
And this hate-based messaging hasn’t abated since the referendum. A post on their Facebook page dated 9th August 2019, shows a picture of three Middle Eastern men in a boat, and declares that migrants recently rescued in Kent should be “[sent] back immediately!”
The group has also been accused of anti-Semitism, for depicting liberal, Jewish philanthropist George Soros as a European puppet-master.
4. Support for far-right politicians
Banks’s group has lent support to a number of far-right politicians in Europe.
Images posted on social media show that Leave.EU admire Italian politician Matteo Salvini, who they call a “patriot”. Salvini is a hardliner on immigration who once proposed conducting a “racial census” of Italians.
Leave.EU has also celebrated the success of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, and Hungary’s strongman leader Viktor Orban – someone who has systematically undermined democracy in his country by demolishing the independence of the judiciary and repressing journalists.
5. Social media reach
As mentioned, Leave.EU is still very active on social media. However, the scale of the group’s success isn’t widely known.
Leave.EU is comfortably the most effective UK-based politics page on Facebook. According to Pranay Manocha, Chief Technology Officer at Best for Britain, Leave.EU receives 6.1 million weekly engagements on Facebook. This dwarfs the 2.7m engagements achieved by Jeremy Corbyn, who is second on the list.
The referendum campaign might be over, but Leave.EU is still a powerful force in UK politics – spreading hardline, right-wing rhetoric to millions of people a week.