UK government ‘slow’ to recognise Russia meddling threat, report says

Anti-Brexit demonstrator Steve Bray outside Downing Street in London, July 21, 2020.
Anti-Brexit demonstrator Steve Bray outside Downing Street in London, July 21, 2020. REUTERS - HANNAH MCKAY

Russia meddled in the 2014 Scottish referendum and the British government failed to ask for a deep assessment of possible Kremlin-directed interference in the Brexit vote as it was slow to recognise the existence of the threat, said a long-awaited British parliamentary report released Tuesday.


"There should have been assessment of Russian interference in the referendum. And there must now be one, and the public must be told the results of that assessment," said Kevan Jones, a member of the parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

The report said it was “astonishing” that no one sought to protect the 2016 EU referendum from Russian interference, and that British officials should have recognised the Russian threat back in 2014. The authors said there had been no assessment of Russian influence.

"There has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014," the report, which was finished in March 2019 but shelved until Tuesday, said.

It said there were open source indications that Russia sought to influence the Brexit campaign but that the British government had not sought deep evidence of meddling.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is confident the referendum result was fair, his spokesman said on Tuesday. 

Asked in the light of a parliamentary report into Russian influence in Britain whether Johnson thought the outcome of the referendum was fair, the spokesman said: "Yes, absolutely."

Top target for Russian intelligence

The report cast Russia as a hostile power that posed a significant threat to the United Kingdom and the West across a range of fronts, from espionage and cyber to election meddling and laundering dirty money.

"It appears that Russia considers the UK one of its top Western intelligence targets," the report said.

The report, which was leaked ahead of its publication time by the Guido Fawkes website, said the British government failed to delve deeply enough into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Russia denies allegations

The Kremlin said Russia has never interfered in another country's electoral processes. Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the West, casting the United States and Britain as gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.

When discussing the EU referendum, the UK parliamentary report is heavily redacted and one classified annex was not published, but the lawmakers called for a proper investigation.

"In response to our request for written evidence at the outset of the Inquiry, MI5 initially provided just six lines of text. It stated that ***, before referring to academic studies," the redacted version reads.

"It is nonetheless the Committee’s view that the UK Intelligence Community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published," the report said.

Corrupt Russian money 'welcomed'

The committee cast Russia, which haemorrhaged the capital of a former superpower following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, as a source of corrupt money that had been welcomed in London, the world's premier international financial capital.

"The UK welcomed Russian money, and few questions – if any – were asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth," the report said. "The UK has been viewed as a particularly favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money."

"It offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled through what has been referred to as the London 'laundromat'," the report said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)


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