Russian Interference in British Politics including the EU Membership Referendum

There has been widespread acknowledgement that Putin and his government have been interfering in the democratic processes of various countries for years, including the UK, where our government has acknowledged that the Russians interfered in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014 and the 2019 general election.

However, when it comes to the 2016 EU referendum, despite strong suspicions, the ‘Russia Report’ indicated that the UK government has made no attempt to investigate these suspicions. This decision is particularly hard to accept given that one of the obvious beneficiaries of Brexit, if not the most obvious, was Russia. This was reflected in comments by the former Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, that the Russians had “crushed the British to the ground” when referring to Brexit.

Given this background, the pro European community has always been concerned about the distinct possibility that Russia had interfered in the EU membership referendum with many pro Europeans being very disappointed that the “Russia Report” failed to address this issue.

With this in mind, I have been of the opinion for some time that the issue of Russian interference in the EU membership referendum needs to be investigated thoroughly and, given the pro Brexit stance of current Government, independently.

Accordingly, immediately following the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, I set up a parliamentary petition calling for a public inquiry into potential Russian interference in British politics with the aim of protecting our democracy and determining the extent of any Russian interference in UK politics including the extent of any undue influence the Russians may have had over our democratic processes and institutions, including Government Ministers and Members of Parliament.

You can view and sign our petition here

Our petition quickly reached the 10,000 mark meaning the government had to respond, which eventually they did, and not in a particularly reassuring way, essentially saying that they would not be holding a public inquiry as there was a robust process in place to protect the UK from foreign interference (the full response can be seen below).

There may well be a process in place, but as the House Intelligence and Security Committee found that the Government didn’t bother looking for evidence of Russian interference, one has to ask how effective those processes can be, if indeed they were used to try and detect Russian interference at all!

This is simply not acceptable, which leads one to ask why the Government doesn’t want this issue investigated. Apart from the fact that the government is dominated by anti Europeans who would not want their precious Brexit undermined any further, there is a potential further explanation. The amount of money donated to the Conservative Party and individual Conservative MPs by Russians and Russian owned companies runs into millions, possibly as much as £5,000,000.

The Tory Party is awash with Russian Cash

That in itself is a concerning figure, especially given the background of some of the individuals who have donated money, which includes making millions from the sale of munitions to the Russian armed forces, some of which are no doubt being used against Ukrainian civilians as I write this!

Bluntly the Government has failed to fully investigate and assess the extent of Russian interference in British politics including the 2016 EU membership referendum and that needs to be corrected.

We will therefore continue to promote our petition with aim of achieving 100,000 signatures and forcing a parliamentary debate in the issue.

You can view and sign our petition here

Full text of the Government response:

The UK has a robust process to protect against foreign interference, led by the intelligence and security agencies. There are no plans to alter this approach or initiate a public inquiry.

It is, and always shall be, an absolute priority for the Government to protect the UK’s democratic processes against foreign interference. The Intelligence and Security Agencies produce and contribute to regular assessments of state threats, including potential malign interference. We keep those assessments under constant review and, where necessary, update them in response to new intelligence. As new information emerges, the Government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence received, including whether it might be appropriate to make that intelligence public. Given this long standing approach, there are no plans to initiate a public inquiry into Russian interference.

Interference in democratic processes is an international issue, affecting not only the UK. That is why the UK Government will continue to call out and respond to malign activity, including any attempts to interfere in our democratic processes, alongside our international partners including the Five Eyes countries and NATO.

Protecting and promoting a flourishing democracy is a cross-cutting challenge and requires coordinated action. That is why the Government is bringing forward a package of legislation that delivers ambitious reform. Our National Security legislative proposals will give the intelligence agencies and law enforcement the tools they need to tackle the diversifying and evolving threats we face. Our Online Safety Bill proposes a range of measures that will help protect democratic discourse, such as forcing companies to tackle illegal misinformation and disinformation, and by tackling online abuse. Our Elections Bill contains a range of reforms, including strengthening rules on ineligible foreign campaign spending. All of this legislative work is supported by the cross-government Defending Democracy programme, which brings together expertise and capabilities from across Government departments, the Security and Intelligence Agencies and civil society to ensure UK democracy remains open, vibrant and secure.

You can view and sign our petition here