The long awaited report into Russia’s involvement in UK politics has finally been released following months of delays. The report revealed Moscow did not interfere with the Brexit vote in June 2016 but did meddle in the Scottish independence referendum two years earlier. The findings come as part of a long-running investigation into the threats Russia poses to Britain, carried out by MPs and peers on the ISC.
Following the release of the report, British political journalist Jane Merrick said there have been “long documented” attempts by Russia to get involved in UK politics.
Human rights activist Bill Browder added that in some ways Russia is now “more of a threat than Cold War Russia” as the UK has relaxed its defences.
The ISC report also claimed the UK had become a “laundromat” for dubious Russian funds.
It follows the publication of the government’s response to an Intelligence and Security Committee report stating there was no evidence of such interference.
The UK government claims there is “no evidence” of Russian interference in Brexit, despite fears
The government has said it recognised the “enduring and significant threat” posed by Russia to the UK, and insisted the state is a “top national security priority”.
It added it had established the Defending Democracy programme in response to the initial evidence seen by the committee in January 2019.
The government said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU Referendum.
“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.
Stuart Hosie said the government’s failure to look into the issue was “worse” than the issue itself.
“Given this long standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU Referendum is not necessary.”
However, Stuart Hosie MP, a member of the ISC, said in a statement yesterday Russian media outlets had been publishing pro-Brexit and anti-EU material.
Mr Hosie added it would be difficult to say whether or not any Russian interference in Brexit had influenced the vote, but accused the government of failing to look into it nonetheless.
The ISC member said: “Studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU on RT and Sputnik, and the use of bots and trolls.
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According to studies, Russian media outlets posted pro-Brexit and anti-EU material.
“The actual impact of such attempts on the result itself – by which I mean, did the disinformation actually change how people voted – would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
“There has, however, been speculation that this report was going to reveal either that Russia had interfered in, or sought to influence, the referendum. In the committee’s view, it’s worse than that.
“The report reveals that no-one in government knew if Russia interfered in, or sought to influence the referendum, because they did not want to know.”
The report did acknowledge that there had been interference in the Scottish referendum.
Ms Merrick said anyone suggesting Russia did not meddle in the referendum was being “disingenuous”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he welcomed the report, adding: “I would like to thank the former Committee for their work in the last Parliament, and I look forward to working with the newly appointed Committee in the future.”