Bad-Tempered Emails Reveal Fight to Tie Fake News to Brexit Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Dominic Cummings, the director of Vote Leave during the Brexit referendum, refuses to answer questions by a panel of lawmakers as part of an investigation into fake news. Now he could face contempt charges.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee published on Tuesday a series of heated exchanges between Cummings and its chairman. “I will not participate in your theatre” he wrote to Damian Collins, who has upped the ante by asking Speaker John Bercow to find time for a debate so the entire House of Commons can call on Cummings to give evidence.

The Brexit mastermind, who will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a forthcoming television drama, is known for his combative style and blog rants, including calling Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy a “shambles.”

The emails show Cummings lashing out against attempts to force a second referendum on Brexit: “Do you know what Vote Leave 2 would feel like for the MPs who vote for that (and donors who fund it)? It would feel like having Lawrence Taylor chasing you and smashing you into the ground over and over and over again.” Taylor is a former National Football League player.

The parliamentary panel is investigating the use of targeted online advertising during the campaign, following allegations that Facebook users’ private data may have been misused. It wants to ask Cummings about Vote Leave’s use of Aggregate IQ, an online advertising agency. The agency has been linked to SCL Group, the parent company of disgraced Cambridge Analytica, which took 40 percent of the official Brexit campaign’s budget for advertising.

Here was one of the responses: “Sending a summons is the behaviour of people looking for PR, not people looking to get to the bottom of this affair. A summons will have zero positive impact on my decision and is likely only to mean I withdraw my offer of friendly cooperation, given you will have shown greater interest in grandstanding than truth-seeking, which is one of the curses of the committee system.”

The penalties for holding Parliament in contempt vary. Technically -- though very unlikely -- the Commons could call Cummings to appear before them and berate him for his behavior. That seems to be what Collins is angling for.

Cummings could also be issued with a fine, although this penalty hasn’t been used since 1666. As a last resort, lawmakers could threaten to send him to the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster -- more commonly known as Big Ben -- a measure not used since 1880.

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