These days there is a Russian in every American closet. But if Vladimir Putin's spies lent a hand to elect Donald Trump, they seem to have used Brexit as a trial run. It's just the latest political drama to hit the UK.
British journalists have begun looking for a Russian behind every bush. And they seem to be finding them. All you had to do was follow the money. Even the Electoral Commission, which watches over public and private campaign funds, has now begun an investigation into the finances of UKIP donor Arron Banks. He bankrolled EU-skeptic groups and the Leave.EU campaign with more than 7 million pounds ($9.2 million, 8 million euros). Banks is known as "the man who bought Brexit,or who at least paid for it."
So where did the money come from? Did Banks dip into his private wealth or into Russian slush funds, as Labor MP Ben Bradshaw suggested in Parliament? If you actually follow the money, however, the trail ends with the inevitable offshore companies, on Gibraltar and elsewhere. Maybe the "Paradise Papers" can help.
Banks himself is laughing the stories off: All he did was have a boozy lunch with the Russian ambassador. And he has a Russian wife who was, in an earlier life, close to a British MP who had been intimately connected to a lovely young Russian later extradited as a spy. But that's only a coincidence.
Then there is Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, who figures as a "London professor" in the indictment against George Papadopoulos, an advisor to Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. Just weeks ago, Mifsud was a guest at a dinner with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the leading Tory who helped the Vote Leave campaign to success. More and more coincidences. And no, this is not the plot line for a new John Le Carre thriller.
Find the money!
Brexit talks will continue this week and there were worries about an empty agenda. However the Sunday Times revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May would accept the European Union's 60 billion euro exit bill. The decision is aimed at moving negotiations forward and producing the desired "sufficient progress" ahead of the December summit. It would also deliver a kind of victory for May and ensure that talks about the future EU-UK relationship could finally begin in January.
This agreement is not necessarily about the sum itself, but is an acknowledgement of the EU's demand that the UK pay its dues from the running budget period, liabilities and loans, pensions and so on. This attempt to unblock the talks may yet be shot down by the hardline Bexiteers, but still there remains a question: Why now? What changed? Why not three months ago?
Find the papers
For weeks the opposition in Parliament has pressured the government to publish a series of 58 studies describing the economic consequences of Brexit and its possible outcomes. But May and her ministers were adamant that the papers should remain secret. They seem not to be fit for publication, which supports the suspicion that they are truly hair-raising. No flights for British airlines to the EU or no nuclear material for British hospitals, anyone?
And the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) declared it needed a "safe space" for negotiations with Brussels. Using an obscure old parliamentary rule, however, Labor MP's with the help of some Tory rebels attempted to force the government to publicize the poison papers. And now they are waiting. If the DExEU und May continue to refuse, what happens next? Would somebody call the guards and throw the prime minister and her Brexit minister into the Tower?
No more wandering hands
The ongoing preoccupation with Brexit in Westminster has given way to the desperate fight against sexual harassment. May has already lost her defense secretary, her deputy is under threat and six MP's are facing investigations. If all the Tories with wandering hands are forced to step down, a series of by-elections could crash the government.
The scandal has reached gale force and threatens to blow May away. So many tales about patting and groping, so many lunges after lunch and aggressive advances after drinks have emerged it seems a wonder that anybody still gets any work done.