We finally have an answer about Cambridge Analytica's murky work on Brexit -- but mystery still lingers

GettyFormer Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and Nigel Farage, the ex-UKIP leader.
  • Cambridge Analytica did not work with Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, according to the UK’s Electoral Commission.
  • It puts to bed years of speculation and contradiction about links between the two organisations.
  • But huge questions remain about Cambridge Analytica’s ties to the official Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, through Canadian data firm AggregateIQ.
  • UK lawmakers have summonsed Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO and Vote Leave’s boss to give evidence and clear up the mystery.

After more than two years of brazen contradiction, claims and counterclaims, we finally have an answer about the murky role Cambridge Analytica played in Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The disgraced data company, which was shut down last week in a storm of negative press, did not work with Leave.EU, the aggressive Brexit campaign group spearheaded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

That was the determination of Britain’s Electoral Commission on Friday, which put an end to speculation – in large part encouraged by Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU – that the two organisations collaborated to target voters with anti-EU messaging ahead of the June 2016 referendum.

The Electoral Commission said its investigation into Leave.EU,which has resulted in the organisation being fined for a series of breaches of election laws, found no evidence it “received donations or paid-for services from Cambridge Analytica.” The Commission added that their relationship “did not develop beyond initial scoping work.”

It follows Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica repeatedly saying that they worked together in the early stages of the Brexit campaign. They then both furiously backtracked, explaining that the partnership was merely exploratory. You can read a full history of Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica’s brazenly contradictory accounts here.

In making its conclusion, the Electoral Commission has also decided to give little weight to evidence provided by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser. It spoke to Kaiser directly and considered her evidence to British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last month, in which she said Cambridge Analytica did “a small piece of work” analysing UKIP data to support Leave.EU messaging.

Mystery still shrouds Cambridge Analytica’s links to Vote Leave

So, that’s one part of the Cambridge Analytica Brexit riddle seemingly put to bed. But other, potentially more serious questions linger about its links to the official anti-EU campaign Vote Leave. The campaign led by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and other members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s top team.

Vote Leave spent 40% of its £6.8 million ($US9.2 million) referendum budget with AggregateIQ (AIQ), a Canadian data company with a web of connections to SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.

At the centre of these ties is Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica staffer who originally blew the whistle on the massive Facebook data breach. He has provided evidence to UK lawmakers that AIQ was part of the SCL/Cambridge Analytica “umbrella” and was paid handsomely for its work for Vote Leave.

“AIQ wouldn’t exist without me,” Wylie told The Observer in March. A source also told the newspaper that Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s chief strategist, was introduced to AIQ by a former Cambridge Analytica employee, while Kaiser said last month that the two companies “probably were working very closely.”

Cummings has vigorously denied the claims. He told The Observer that the idea that Vote Leave was coordinating with Cambridge Analytica was “not just without foundation but the opposite of the truth.”

Lawmakers on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee have been pulling at the threads of this mystery for months, and it was why they took the highly unusual step this week of issuing a formal summons for Cummings and ex-Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix to give evidence. If they don’t show up in the coming weeks, they could be found in contempt of Parliament.

“The committee needs to get to the truth of what has happened,” said chair Damian Collins. We may have one answer about Cambridge Analytica’s murky role in Brexit, but we are far from reaching the bottom of this saga.

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