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
A watchdog has said that UK intelligence agencies took their “eye off the ball” regarding Russian interference and said that the government “badly underestimated” the threat.
A long-awaited report from the House of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) discovered that Vladimir Putin’s administration has been engaging in “hostile foreign interference”.
This comes after plans to bring an end to controversial “gay conversion therapy” in the UK will be brought forward following a government “study” on the issue, the Prime Minister has said.
The watchdog criticised the “illogical” approach taken by MI5 in not fully investigating the extent of how much Russia tried to influence the Brexit vote, due to an “extreme caution” of being seen to be interfering in “democratic processes”.
Ministers “did not want to know” and “actively avoided looking for evidence”, MP Stewart Hosie, one of the committee members, added in a press briefing.
The report also referred to the Official Secrets Act as “out of date”, and urged the government to pass new legislation to prevent espionage and “illicit financial dealings” by those who are part of the “Russian elite”.
“In brief, Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth,” the document released on Tuesday said.
“This level of integration… means that any measures now being taken by the government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”
The 47-page report describes claims in which Russia attempted to meddle in the Scottish independence vote in 2014 as “credible” in “potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process”.
Responding to the report, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:
“We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values from such hostile state activity.”
In its full response, the government said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum.”
The Labour Party said that the finding ministers “underestimated the response required to Russia” means it is “imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted the government should “study the conclusions of the report carefully and take the necessary steps to keep our country safe”.
This comes after the government has admitted that its contact tracing programme, that Boris Johnson pledged would be ‘world beating’, is unlawful in a legal letter which confirms that it has been breaching data protection laws since it has been running in May.
The government was accused of sitting on the 47-page report, after the committee’s last chair said that he had provided Downing Street with the final copy of it in October of 2019, with the normal redaction process taking 10 days.
But Boris Johnson did not publish the report before the last election, meaning that committee members lost their position and the government took until last week to nominate the Conservative members to be on the committee.