Russia's Connection To Brexit Is 'Opaque And Complicated,' Journalist Says

Mar 21, 2019
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. With Brexit and the United Kingdom facing a chaotic and uncertain future, Donald Trump Jr. wrote an op-ed in the British paper The Telegraph this week in support of a speedy exit from the EU. He wrote, in a way, you could say that Brexit and my father's election are one and the same. Another person who's making connections between Trump and Brexit but for different reasons is Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff says he sees parallels between the apparent Russian efforts to influence the Brexit referendum and the Russian efforts to influence America's 2016 presidential election.

He told that to my guest Ed Caesar, a British journalist who has a new article in The New Yorker about the British businessman Arron Banks, who funded the most extreme group that campaigned for leaving the European Union - the group known as Leave.EU. Banks is suspected of having received help from the Russians. Those ties are currently under investigation by the British equivalent of the FBI. Other subjects Ed Caesar has written about include Russian oligarchs, Deutsche Bank's laundering of Russian money and African civil wars. He's won awards from the Foreign Press Association for financial economic story of the year and journalist of the year.

Ed Caesar, welcome to FRESH AIR. So let's talk about Arron Banks, the subject of your article. He's a businessman who owns insurance companies and diamond mines in Africa. He gave $13 million to the most extreme end of the Brexit campaign. That's the largest sum ever given in a British election by one person to one campaign. Before we get to where he got the money from and if it involved Russian money, let's talk about how the money was used. He gave it to Leave.EU. What is that? And how does that compare to Vote Leave?

ED CAESAR: So Leave.EU was - they called themselves the provisional wing of the "leave" campaign, which is quite a colorful way of expressing it. What it means, really, is that they were the sort of unofficial "leave" campaign. They tried to be the official campaign, but they were beaten out by the more establishment anti-EU movement, which was called Vote Leave, eventually. So Leave.EU were far more aggressive in the media. They liked to talk about immigration a lot because they believed that that was the No. 1 issue for voters. In fact, I think it was one of a number of issues that all played into the "leave" votes.

But that was certainly the message that they were hammering home day after day. And they liked to get free media by being outrageous, which was a Donald Trump-style strategy. Vote Leave, on the other hand, was far more mainstream. You know, it had a lot of, you know, established conservative voices. There were a lot of intellectual arguments made for leaving the EU, many of which were valid. And that - you know, it was a more technocratic campaign, I would suppose, than Leave.EU.

GROSS: You know, Banks told you, we're going to be blunt, edgy and controversial, Donald Trump-style. So that's a...

CAESAR: Yes.

GROSS: ...Very conscious connection between, you know, Brexit and the Trump campaign. And both campaigns were very anti-immigrant. You describe some of the anti-immigrant social media that the Leave.EU campaign, funded by Arron Banks, was responsible for. And Arron Banks, in fact, oversaw the social media in that Leave.EU campaign. So would you describe some of that anti-immigrant - some of the most extreme anti-immigrant social media posts?

CAESAR: Sure. I mean, it's - you know, it was everything from pointing out the, you know, the dismissal of free movement as an idea, which is this European idea that people can cross borders easily, to just outright dog whistle posts - immigration without assimilation equals invasion, that kind of thing. The idea that the U.K. has been invaded seems, to me, extremely dangerous. So you see these themes being repeated often by Leave.EU.

GROSS: One of the posts that you describe in the piece is a post about the dangers of, quote, "free movement within the EU." And what that means is immigration, like immigrants from other countries coming to England. And there's a photo in that post of a ticking time bomb. There was a post of George Soros, who is, you know, a very wealthy funder of liberal causes. And he's become like a demon in the Trump world and in the Brexit world. And so there was images of him pictured as the puppet master controlling Tony Blair, echoing a Nazi propaganda post from the 1940s in which a Jewish man is controlling the strings of Churchill and Stalin. And I found this very disturbing. After a pipe bomb was discovered in George Soros' home or, I think, maybe it was his mailbox, Banks, the subject of your article, tweeted, I suppose there are good Jews and bad Jews, then George Soros. I'm not even sure what that means. But it sure sounds anti-Semitic.

CAESAR: It doesn't sound great, does it? It sounds...

GROSS: (Laughter).

CAESAR: It sounds like someone who has as a vendetta against George Soros in particular but is also playing into this, I would guess, a worldwide outright, you know, worldview that there are these powerful forces that control the media, politics, banking. And if you push that in certain directions, you get to the worldview that was espoused by the Nazis, which was, you know, there are - there is a Jewish banking cabal. And that was the nature of the propaganda that you just described. You know, in "The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion," which was a book very, you know, close to Hitler, that's what is being described, this conspiracy. Now, I'm not saying that Arron Banks is an outright anti-Semite. What I think is that he is tapped into these outright strains of thought. And he, you know, exploits, at certain times, these themes for his own ends. You know, I don't think that he would ever consider himself to be an anti-Semite. And I'm sure he has Jewish friends and so on and so forth. I'm saying the social media posts and the, you know, the output of Leave.EU often raised these themes.

GROSS: And then during the campaign, like, days before the vote, a British member of Parliament who supported remaining in the EU was shot and stabbed to death by somebody who shouted Britain first as he murdered her. And both sides of the Brexit campaign agreed to stop campaigning during, you know, a period of mourning. But Arron Banks' group, Leave.EU, the more radical part, they kept doing social media.

CAESAR: Well, what happened was that they had existing - pre-existing Facebook adverts. And they decided, according to emails that were recently unearthed, that they would continue to exploit those existing ads. So they would push those existing ads harder because they realized that they would get more takeup as everyone else had stopped campaigning. That strikes me as somewhat within the letter of the rules that people had agreed but hugely out with the spirit of them. And, you know, they could say, you know, with some validity that they weren't campaigning during this time. And they did stop active campaigning. However, telling your chief executive to push it harder on existing Facebook ads doesn't seem, to me, to be stopping campaigning.

GROSS: So there's a lot of people who are skeptical that the $13 million that Arron Banks donated to Leave.EU actually came from money from his own businesses. Why are people skeptical that he would've been able to give that amount of money from his own profits?

CAESAR: Well, there are two main reasons for this. First of all, he has said himself he's worth about a quarter of a billion pounds. And many financial journalists have questioned that figure. They say that he's maybe worth about 22 or 25 million pounds based on publicly available information and that if he did give $13 million, it would represent an enormous chunk of his total earnings. It would be, you know, extremely generous. I know that I haven't given half of my money, which is very small, to political campaigns. So that's one reason why people are skeptical about it. The other reason is that so much of his business is in offshore locations - so Bermuda, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, which is secrecy jurisdiction. So you really can't get information out of those jurisdictions. And then I would just add the very obvious thing - that he had many meetings with Russian business men and Russian diplomats in the lead up to the referendum. And he was not straightforward about disclosing those meetings.

GROSS: So this is not exactly evidence that Arron Banks has ties to Russia, but his wife is Russian, and she has been suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence. Can you tell us about that?

CAESAR: Well, this is a really interesting part of this story. What we were able to, you know, deduce from reporting was that Arron Banks' wife had been deported from Dubai before she came to the United Kingdom. She had a very short marriage to a much older man which fell apart very quickly. And then two years later, she met Arron Banks apparently at a Britney Spears concert.

So this young Russian woman is suddenly in Arron Banks' life, and then they're married. And people have asked a lot of questions about Katya Banks, partly because it's not quite clear where she came from.

GROSS: Katya Banks has a very provocative license plate. Would you describe the license plate, what it says?

CAESAR: Yeah. It says X MI5 SPY, which is, I think, a nod to her detractors. So it's, I mean, it's sort of hilarious. And it goes with the general strategy of Arron Banks and his movement, which is to play things for laughs, to be cartoonish in their outlook.

GROSS: And thus dismissive, like, oh, that's so hilarious. I'm just going to make a joke on it. You're just being ridiculous.

CAESAR: Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, when I was in a very long interview with Arron Banks and his communications chief and sidekick, Andy Wigmore, you know, his PR guy said to me, listen, if you're really a spy, you don't put X MI5 SPY on the back of your car. Which seems like a reasonable point, but also, you know, who knows?

GROSS: Right. If it's part of a strategy, maybe you would.

CAESAR: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So you describe Banks and his communications chief, Andrew Wigmore, as prone to boyishness. Tell us what you mean, and give us a sense of how they present themselves and how they seem to want to be seen.

CAESAR: I think they want to be seen as buccaneers and outsiders, you know, political pirates. I think that's how they like to be seen - people who shoot from the hip, who tell it like it is, who have no time for liberal niceties, who will trample over people's feelings. But I think that's how they want to be seen. I'm not sure it's entirely true to theirselves (ph). You know, actually, in person, they're, you know, perfectly amiable, even if some of the things that they say are - can actually be fairly repulsive, you know, when it comes into the, you know, deep state stuff and, you know, the ugly conspiracies.

But, you know, you could sit across the table from them and have a glass of wine and they'd be extremely polite and so on and so forth. It's more that their online persona is so waspish and piratical. You know, that's the view that they want to show to the world. You know, they don't really care what people think of them. And I think that is both part of their personalities, but it's also a strategy, I think, because it allows them a certain latitude in what they can get away with.

GROSS: Yeah, like, we're, like, really interesting, crazy, nonconformists.

CAESAR: That's it.

GROSS: When you describe Banks, he often has, like, a drink in his hand. Is that because you're writing about things that are partly social occasions?

CAESAR: No. I think if you ask anyone who was involved with UKIP, there was often drink involved. You know, they were very social. You know, Nigel Farage often talks about a proper lunch. And a proper lunch generally lasts five hours. It involves a couple of bottles of Chateauneuf.

You know, it's a - you know, it's a culture which is quite boozy, quite old-fashioned in some senses. It's the world of, you know, big lunches in the city of London, and it's quite a masculine world, I would say.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Ed Caesar. And he has an article in the current issue of The New Yorker titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks, The 'Bad Boy Of Brexit.'" And it's about how Arron Banks funded the most extreme end of the Brexit campaign. And it's about the question of whether he did it with Russian involvement and Russian money.

We're going to take a short break, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Ed Caesar. He has a piece in the current issue of The New Yorker titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks, The "Bad Boy" Of Brexit." And Banks is the person who was the biggest funder to the most extreme end of the Brexit campaign. And this piece investigates whether Banks had Russian backing and Russian money behind him while he was funding Brexit.

So Arron Banks had several meetings with Russia's ambassador to England. What were those meetings about?

CAESAR: Well, the first meeting was described as a six-hour boozy lunch. And it was a, you know, if you listened to Arron Banks, it was purely social. They got on famously. They drank some vodka that was apparently made for Joseph Stalin. Everyone had a, you know, a really jolly time.

And during this lunch hour, Arron Banks mentioned, oh, I've got these diamond mines in South Africa. And at that point, the Russian ambassador said, well, you must, you know, meet a friend of mine or a businessman I know. And he starts to arrange another meeting about a possible gold deal in Russia. So that's the official narrative.

What has since come out is that Arron Banks had several meetings with Russian businessmen who had some kind of offer for him, you know, a gold mine in West Africa. You know, he was interested in Alrosa, this Russian state diamond producer, as well as this very lucrative potential consolidation of gold mines in Russia. And when you put it together, it looks like these deals were being dangled in front of Arron Banks.

GROSS: And he turned down the deals though, right?

CAESAR: He did.

GROSS: But are there other ways he could have been used financially by the Russians? I mean, reading between the lines, it sounded like his - that Arron Banks' diamond mines in Africa could have been used for Russian money laundering.

CAESAR: That's certainly a possibility that was suggested to me during the reporting of this article. It seems like diamond mines are quite good if you want to launder money. It's striking - is it not? - that someone who's made most of their money in insurance and who lives in the west of England is branching out into this quite ambitious and racket-y bit of the mineral sector in southern Africa. It's not a natural progression, you might argue (laughter). So that has, you know, puzzled some people.

And if you look at the - his businesses in the round, it's so complicated - his business structure - and so opaque and in so many secretive locations that that is an excellent screen. If he is indeed involved in that kind of activity, it would be an excellent screen for money laundering.

GROSS: So if he was being used for money laundering, like, to what purpose?

CAESAR: Well if you wanted a boost his Leave.EU campaign, I suppose you could give him money to do so. You know, if the Russian state was interested in Brexit - everyone that you talk to who has some deep knowledge about Russian foreign policy intentions thinks that Brexit was in Russia's in their geopolitical interests.

So if you wanted to introduce money into the campaign of the most outrageous Brexit campaigner, well, maybe this is the way that you do it. You know, we did not uncover a distinct, concrete bit of evidence that said that that definitely had happened. But what we were talking about were people who were looking at patterns of behavior and saw a chaotic and opaque and complicated web of businesses, including in the mineral sector, that might have been a good conduit for that activity.

GROSS: So in other words, there is the possibility that the $13 million that Arron Banks donated to the extreme end of the Brexit campaign was Russian money that was laundered through Arron Banks' diamond mines in Africa.

CAESAR: That's one possibility. I mean, this is certainly something that the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom, which is our equivalent of the FBI - that's something that they're looking at, that the donations made in Arron Banks' name did not all come from him.

GROSS: So I guess we're in the area of speculation. But the facts are still being gathered.

CAESAR: But there is an investigation by the - you know, the highest criminal investigator in the U.K. into this subject. So without wanting to, you know, foresee what the results of that will be, you know, we can at least say that it has proved interesting enough for that investigation to take place.

GROSS: My guest is Ed Caesar. His new article in The New Yorker is titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks, The 'Bad Boy Of Brexit.'" After we take a short break, we'll talk about why Russia would want the U.K. to leave the EU, and Ken Tucker will review a new album by Carsie Blanton who Ken says makes folk-based music with a sense of humor.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLISON MILLER'S "HIGH T")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with British journalist Ed Caesar. His new article in The New Yorker is about the British businessman Arron Banks who funded the most extreme end of the Brexit campaign, the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. The British equivalent of the FBI is investigating Banks' ties to Russia and whether Russia helped him with the Brexit campaign.

You write - (reading) one thing is clear, although Russia does not seem to have achieved anything like the success it did by stealing Hillary Clinton's emails, it certainly attempted to interfere in British affairs. What is in it for Russia to push the U.K. toward Brexit?

CAESAR: Well, I think a number of things. Firstly, Russia was at odds with the U.K. over a number of foreign policy issues, including Crimea, at that point. Also, Russia was under sanctions, which they really chafed against. The other thing is that the European bloc is slightly offensive to Russia. And anything that they can do to weaken alliances within Europe is, according to experts, pretty good for them.

And I think a third point, which was made to me over and over again, is that chaos is Russia's friend. You know, stable alliances and, you know, solid relationships within the West are not conducive to a stronger Russia. You know, Russia has pushed back very asymmetrically against what it believes is a campaign by various Western powers to destabilize it. And the way that they do this in this asymmetric way is to somewhat interfere in the affairs of European countries - and America, it turns out. And, you know, they have differing levels of success. But it was certainly in their interest to - for Britain to leave the European Union.

GROSS: Don Jr. wrote an op-ed in The Telegraph in England and said - in a way, you could say that Brexit and my father's election are one and the same. The people of both the U.K. and the U.S. voted to uproot the establishment for the sake of individual freedom and independence, only to see the establishment try to silence their voices and overturn their mandates. What do you think Brexit and the Trump campaign have in common?

CAESAR: Well, that op-ed by Don Jr. was quite striking for a number of reasons. And there are parallels in abundance between the election of Donald Trump and what happened with Brexit. And that language, in fact, was echoed to me by Adam Schiff, who said that they were looking into the parallels between interference in the election of Donald Trump and in the Brexit campaign.

But to get back to Don Jr.'s point - these huge votes were big populist uprisings. And something extraordinary has happened to politics on both sides of the Atlantic. But in both cases, there are also question marks about the legitimacy of some of the campaigning and the influence of foreign actors. I mean, I think that's fairly clear-cut in the U.S., it's less clear-cut in the U.K., but the same questions persist on both sides of the Atlantic.

GROSS: In America, there are so many investigations going on right now into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia and between, you know, Trump, his administration and Russia. And there's quite an obsession now, in the U.S., about possible ties between Trump and Russia. And I'm wondering if, in England, now, there is a similar level of interest in that or if this is more, like, beneath the surface and if things are so unclear that it hasn't really gelled as a popular obsession?

CAESAR: I wouldn't say there is a similar level of obsession. And I would say that the appetite for investigating this - in terms of a judge-led inquiry or anything that would be, you know, politically instigated - is extremely low. Because Britain - as you may have noticed - is in the middle of shooting itself repeatedly in the face in this constitutional crisis. We - you know, we have no idea how we're leaving the EU, which is - you know, was meant to be happening in 10 days' time and is now looking likely to happen in late spring, perhaps. We don't know whether we're going to be leaving with a deal or with no deal. The options are still baffling and confusing. And people are living in this state of confusion.

And in this constitutional crisis, the last thing that anybody is going to do is to instigate a Mueller-style inquiry into, you know, links between Russia and the Leave campaign - it's just not going to happen. Even though there are senior politicians - the deputy leader of the Labour Party to the opposition party in the U.K. - Tom Watson has called repeatedly for a Mueller-style inquiry. And he did so once again once this article was published.

So he has called, repeatedly, for a Mueller-style inquiry, as have other politicians, both in Labour and in the Conservative Party - the ruling Conservative Party. But there isn't a huge desire to do that by the leaders of both the main political parties just because of what else is going on in U.K. politics.

GROSS: So, you know, we've talked a lot about, like, possible Russian involvement in the Brexit campaign. Britain - like, the U.K. is in chaos right now because of Brexit. There doesn't seem to be any good resolution right now. Let's talk about the damage that's already been done. Like, even if England tried to return to the status quo and stay in the EU, there's damage that's already been done that can't be undone. What is some of that damage?

CAESAR: Well, let me preface this by saying that the wish to leave the EU was a legitimate political aim. It's just that its practical ramifications are so mind-blowing and difficult and, you know, Byzantine, that it's extremely hard to work out how you actually do it.

So what's happening right now is that nobody can decide, in Parliament, what the best way for Britain to leave the EU is. And we have torn each other apart for 2 1/2 years - three years, nearly - since Britain voted to leave the EU. And the divisions now between - what are called leavers and remainers - feel almost irreparable.

I mean, it feels like there's a sort of ideological civil war going on in the U.K. You know, people are losing friendships over it in a way that I haven't seen with British politics. And it's all over this, you know, crazy, technocratic experiment, really. No one's ever tried to leave the EU in this way before. We don't know how to do it. Nobody can tell us how to do it. And the Parliament is deeply divided about the best way forward.

GROSS: You say there's some very legitimate reasons to leave the EU. What are some of the top reasons?

CAESAR: Well, I - you know, I think it's important, in these debates, to think that, you know, there must be intellectual reasons on both sides of the argument. So if you were a leaver, you thought that the European Union was this overmighty (ph), somewhat sclerotic, anti-democratic, supranational body. So this collection of 28 member states that had far too much sway over how individual nations, within that block, went about their business. And if you were a euroskeptic in the U.K., you really chafed against that. That felt like an invasion against British sovereignty.

So you know, for the more mainstream intellectual euroskeptics, that was really the - that's really the argument - is that we should be in control of our own laws and borders. That's the leaver argument in redux. And if you were at the slightly more extreme end or if you were a more emotional leaver, you know, you saw things like mass immigration and you were nostalgic for a Britain that existed before that took place. And the - you know, there may have been more emotional and slightly uglier subtext to your wish to leave the EU. But I think it's wrong to say that everyone who did want to leave the EU wanted to do so in bad faith, you know? And it's - 17.4 million people in the U.K. wanted to leave the EU.

You know, if you wanted to remain, you saw the benefits of being part of the bloc. You saw the ease of travel and the - you know, the trade, you know, the ease of trade and the - just the ease of, you know, doing business in many different senses with, you know, a group of countries that were just on our border. But there is - just objectively speaking, there was always an extremely persuasive argument for remaining in the EU, which is that it's almost impossible to leave it. And we're going to spend the next 10 years doing just that. You know, it's going to be incredibly draining on resources of both human resources and also just money and time to leave the EU. And we could be thinking about all sorts of other things.

And I was - you know, it was really - I found myself being quite emotional, oddly, because I was listening to Prime Minister's Questions. And most of the questions were relating to Brexit on Wednesday because of the constitutional crisis that we're in. But there were also many questions from members of Parliament about the normal business of government - housing shortfalls, infrastructure, you know, child health - all the other things that you might think a government is for, which is to oversee all these different areas. And I just found it slightly upsetting that so much of the talent and industry of government has been taken up with this one problem, which is Brexit, when, in fact, we could be thinking about all these other problems and, you know, trying to improve the country in various different ways. It's not to say that those problems aren't being addressed. It's just that so much of our energy has been redirected towards this one problem of Brexit.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Ed Caesar. He has an article in the new issue of The New Yorker that's titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks: The Bad Boy Of Brexit." We'll talk more about Brexit after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Ed Caesar. He has an article in the new issue of The New Yorker titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks: The Bad Boy Of Brexit." It's about how banks funded the most extreme end of the Brexit campaign and the question of whether he did it with Russian help.

What is some of the damage that's already been done in the U.K. as a result of this inability - as a result of the paralysis in government, and also as a result of the fears of what will happen if the U.K. does leave the EU?

CAESAR: Well, we've seen some big headlines about carmakers, you know, moving abroad from the U.K., businesses thinking about headquartering overseas because they want to be, you know, within Europe, not within an independent U.K. Having said all that, there were some very good financial figures out this week saying that Britain's doing okay. Of course, we haven't left yet, so we don't know, you know, what it's going to be like when we actually come out. So, you know, I think the outlook is, at best, mixed. And, you know, I think, certainly in the case of a no-deal, Brexit looks, actually, quite bleak in the short-term. You know, you're talking about shortages of food and medicine.

GROSS: Why? Why would there be shortages of food and medicine?

CAESAR: Because in the case of a no-deal Brexit, you know, we wouldn't be able to trade in the same way, at least for - in the short-term. So, you know, the contingency plans that are being drawn up by No. 10 Downing Street and the civil service in the U.K., you know, have been honest about the fact that we - you know, we will miss certain types of food for a while. You know, the supermarket shelves, the grocery stores will not be as full as they were. That, to me, seems crazy when you think about, you know, we're the fifth largest economy in the world. And...

GROSS: And not - going without medicine will be even more problematic.

CAESAR: Yeah, it's horrible to think about, and this is all entirely self-inflicted.

GROSS: What's going on on a day-to-day level in England now as people are faced with great uncertainty about what the future will be and what they'll have and not have in the future? I mean, are people, like, stockpiling food and medicine now. What - like, what are they doing to prepare for they don't know what?

CAESAR: Well, I can talk very definitively about my household, where my wife has a pretty debilitating addiction to Dijon mustard, French mustard. And we have at least three big jars in the cupboards. I don't think we're going to have any problem getting Dijon mustard back into the U.K. But anyway, that's one ramification of Brexit.

I mean, on a more serious note, I think many people have tuned out from the chaos in Parliament, which is its own kind of problem. You know, there was a poll that was commissioned recently in which, I think, 65 percent of people, you know, said that they had stopped paying attention. It was either too distressing or too irritating to follow every lick of this, you know, unfolding Lewis Carroll nightmare that's happening in Westminster at the moment.

So I think there's a mixture of denial, worry, deep distrust - I think - of politicians. And I don't know how that's going to play out in the next six months, a year, two years - you know, what - whether there's been real damage done here.

GROSS: During the Brexit campaign, did either side pay much attention in their public campaigning to what the consequences would be if the U.K. actually left the EU and how hard it would be to untangle itself from the EU?

CAESAR: Yes, absolutely. So the "remain" side had what the "leave" side called Project Fear. So Project Fear was this derisory term that the "leave" side had for what now looked like fairly accurate projections of, you know, how hard it was going to be to leave the EU, what the possible economic effects of doing so would be.

You know, it was not like people went into this with their eyes closed. You know, people had good information. I think the reporting on the possible consequences of leaving the EU was done pretty well in the round. And you know, the media did its job. And you know, people knew what they were voting for. The fact is that you can't tell people always, you know, what they're voting for when they go and put the tick in the box.

You know, it's really interesting to me. We talked a little bit about this MP from Yorkshire, Jo Cox, who was murdered a week before the referendum votes. And I spent the night of the referendum reporting from her constituency in Yorkshire, and I was in a pub. I was talking to a lot of patrons there who had voted to leave. And they were telling me that they'd done so, effectively, because they didn't like the fact that Pakistani and Indian immigrants had come to their town two or three generations ago. And they felt that the immigration problem was out of control and, you know, for those reasons and others, had voted to leave the European Union.

Now, you don't have to be an expert in logic to realize that, you know, that is crazy. The immigrants that came to the U.K. two or three generations ago have got nothing to do with our membership in the European Union. You know, they were also extremely beloved and productive members of the community. It was straightforwardly racist, what was being said in there. However, that was part of why some people voted, you know, in that constituency at least.

So you don't get to tell people why they're going to vote for something. And people vote for, you know, enormously various reasons. And for everyone who voted "leave" because they wanted to regain British sovereignty and have more control over our laws and borders, there were some people who voted for, you know, many different other reasons that - some of it may just have been a kick out at the establishment. So that parallel, you know, with the Trump campaign is valid, I think.

GROSS: Ed Caesar, thank you so much for talking with us.

CAESAR: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: Ed Caesar's article in The New Yorker is titled "The Chaotic Triumph Of Arron Banks, The 'Bad Boy Of Brexit.'" After we take a short break, Ken Tucker will review the new album by Carsie Blanton, whose music he describes as delightfully surprising. This is FRESH AIR.

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