Now we can all see why Boris Johnson did not want the so-called ‘Russia Report’ released before the general election last year.
The report – released today (July 21) by Parliament’s new Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – shows that successive Conservative governments have welcomed Russian oligarchs “with open arms”, giving them access to political figures “at the highest levels” – and made absolutely no attempt to investigate Russian interference in referendums and elections; in fact, the Tories “actively avoided” doing so.
This has led, the report states, to the growth of an industry of “enablers” who are “de facto agents of the Russian state”. The report does not explicitly state that these enablers include Conservative government politicians, but its assertion that Russia had access to “the highest levels” of political figures certainly suggests that this is the case.
And the fact that Russia has influence “at the highest levels” seems to have made it almost impossible to organise a response.
The report refers to the defence of UK democratic processes as a “hot potato” over which no government organisation wanted to take the lead in conducting an assessment of Russian interference.
In its response to the report today, the Tory government has said it has seen no evidence of interference in (this is the example it gives) the Brexit referendum. It seems clear that there is a good reason for that: nobody was looking. The government has said it sees no reason to conduct a retrospective investigation into such interference, which looks like a tacit admission of guilt in the light of the report. Committee member Stewart Hosie said, “That is meaningless if they haven’t looked for it.”
The ISC states that “social media companies must take action and remove covert hostile state material. Government must ‘name and shame’ those who fail to act”. The latter demand seems unlikely to happen as it seems clear that the Tory government does not want to do anything.
One reason for that may be the fact that the Tories have been delighted to welcome Russian money and the oligarchs who owned it, “providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’.”
It is unlikely that Russia actually interfered in the mechanics of voting in general elections or the Brexit referendum; the UK’s paper-based voting system “makes actual interference with the mechanism difficult” – but “we should not be complacent about other forms of interference”.
The report states that Russian influence seems to have been exerted prominently in the social media, whose bosses had no interest in preventing it.
It states: “There have been widespread allegations that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU: studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’, as evidence.
“The actual impact of such attempts on the result itself would be difficult – if not impossible – to prove. However what is clear is that the Government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat – only understanding it after the ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee, when it should have been seen as early as 2014.
“As a result the Government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016. The Committee has not been provided with any post-referendum assessment – in stark contrast to the US response to reports of interference in the 2016 presidential election. In our view there must be an analogous assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum.”
In their statement, the Tories have made it clear that they will not conduct a retrospective investigation: “The Intelligence and Security Agencies produce and contribute to regular assessments of the threat posed by Hostile State Activity, including around potential interference in UK democratic processes.
“We keep such assessments under review and, where necessary, update them in response to new intelligence, including during democratic events such as elections and referendums.
“Where new information emerges, the Government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence it develops or receives, including whether it is appropriate to make this public. Given this long standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU Referendum is not necessary.”
This is hardly encouraging, given that the ISC report makes it clear that the Tory government has deliberately avoided looking for Russian interference.
Labour has delivered the weak-ass response that we have come to expect from Keir Starmer’s sub-Tory party, courtesy of Lisa “I wouldn’t disclose plans to sell off the NHS” Nandy.
“The report is very clear that the Government has underestimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made,” she said. “The Labour Party calls on the Government to study the conclusions of the report carefully and take the necessary steps to keep our country safe.”
Fat chance! And she knows it. The people of the UK needed a much more robust response, calling out Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his extremely strong ties with Russians – he plays tennis with them in return for donations to the Tory Party, remember – and demanding a full-strength investigation into connections between Conservative government members past and present and Russians in the UK – both private citizens and representatives of that country’s government.
I’ll say it again, for clarity:
What we need now is a comprehensive and independent investigation by law-enforcement agencies into connections between anybody who has been a member of a Conservative government over the past 10 years (including members of other parties who have allied with the Tories – the DUP and the Liberal Democrats) and Russians in the UK who have been here either as private citizens or as representatives of that countries government. Did – and do – these relationships pose a threat to the UK’s security and to its democracy?
And if so, should those who have created that threat be arrested and charged with treason?
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