Senior Remain employee Andy West quit EU Referendum campaigning for Big Brother

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One odd aspect of the Remain campaign in Northern Ireland was the sudden disappearance of a key staff member who subsequently appeared on TV reality programme Big Brother – and has remained cut off from the outside world ever since.

On April 18, an email arrived at newdesks across Northern Ireland from former BBC reporter Andy West, introducing himself as the press manager for Northern Ireland Stronger In Europe, the official remain campaign.

Just a couple of months earlier, Mr West had been in the headlines, having quit his news reporter job at BBC Northern Ireland after being suspended for speaking out against the corporation’s decision to shortlist Tyson Fury for Sports Personality of the Year, despite his controversial remarks about homosexuality.

A week after he took up the post, Mr West called into the News Letter’s Belfast office to meet the editor (by bizarre coincidence, arriving just moments after Nigel Farage had left the building following an interview).

Although the News Letter would ultimately come out for a Brexit vote, editor Alistair Bushe made clear that the paper’s news pages would give readers arguments from both sides.

Although Mr West had received considerable internal criticism from BBC colleagues who viewed his behaviour over the Tyson Fury debate as unconscionable for a BBC journalist, his journalistic abilities were respected by senior BBC figures in Belfast and in the new role he immediately began to build contacts and feed through stories to journalists.

But, having established himself as the contact point for the Remain campaign, just a month later Mr West disappeared. A rumour in journalistic circles that he had auditioned for reality TV programme Big Brother quickly turned out to be correct.

On May 23 I got a call from former Ulster Unionist special adviser Rodney McCune, who just two weeks earlier had failed to get elected in South Belfast, to introduce himself as the new press contact for Northern Ireland Stronger In Europe.

With just a month to go until the referendum, it was clearly not an ideal situation for the Remain side.

When asked about Mr West’s departure, Mr McCune admits that the situation was not ideal.

“Any disruption in continuity is unhelpful,” he says.

But when the same question is put to Tom Kelly, who gave Mr West the job – and who says that he did not know that he would be heading off for the TV show – he says that his departure had “no [effect] at all”.