Boris Johnson accuses “Islingtonian Remainers” of seizing on the report to cast doubt on the Brexit vote
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Members of Parliaments that there was “no smoking gun” in the now-released Russia report, as opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed that the Prime Minister “sat on” the “extremely serious” report.
The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) report into the threat posed by Russia to British democracy dominated the exchanges between the Prime Minister and Labour leader at the last PMQs before the recess in the summer.
This comes after ministers reportedly “did not want to know” if Russia had meddled in the EU referendum vote, an MP says, as the government dismisses an investigation.
Boris Johnson blamed “Islingtonian Remainers” for seizing on the report to cast doubt over the EU referendum vote.
Keir Starmer told MPs in the House of Commons that the report demonstrated that Moscow “poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security” and is engaged in “espionage, interfering in democratic processes and serious crime”.
Noting that the ISC had originally sent its report to Boris Johnson 10 months ago, the leader of the opposition asked: “Given that the threat is described as immediate and urgent why on earth did the prime minister sit on that report for so long?
Mr Johnson hit back, saying that when he was the foreign secretary, he took “the strongest possible action” against Moscow over the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.
The PM claimed that Sir Keir “sat on his hands and said nothing while the Labour Party parroted the line of the Kremlin when people in this country were poisoned at the orders of Vladimir Putin”.
This allegation was promptly shut down by Sir Keir, who told those in the Commons that he “stood up and condemned what happened in Salisbury”.
“I supported the then-prime minister [Theresa May] on record, so I’d ask the prime minister to check the record.”
Sir Keir said ministers knew about the need to give the security and intelligence agencies greater powers 18 months ago but did not act.
“The prime minister sat on this report for 10 months and failed to plug a gap in our laws on national security for a year-and-a-half,” he said.
The Labour leader told the PM: “The government has taken its eye off the ball – arguably it wasn’t even on the pitch.”
In response, Mr Johnson said: “This government is bringing forward legislation, not only a new Espionage Act, not only new laws to protect against theft of our intellectual property but also a Magnitsky Act directly to counter individuals in Russia or elsewhere who transgress human rights.”
The PM claimed there was “no country in the Western world that is more vigilant in protecting the interests of this country or the international community from Russian interference”.
Mr Johnson said MPs should be “in no doubt what this is really all about”.
“This is about pressure from the Islingtonian Remainers who have seized on this report to try to give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit,” the PM claimed.
“The people of this country didn’t vote to leave the EU because of pressure from Russia or Russian interference, they voted because they wanted to take back control of our money, our trade policy and our laws.”