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New Details Emerge on Highly Contested Report on Russia’s Meddling in UK Democracy
17 November, 2019
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Pro-European campaigner holds a "Brexit: is it worth it?" during a protest near the Westminster Palace on September 10, 2018. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

There may have been attempts by Russia to sway the U.K. Brexit referendum of 2016, but its influence was “unquantifiable,” a report on Moscow’s efforts to meddle in British democracy may reveal.

On November 17, The Sunday Times published a piece on the report by the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee. It said that the report “could not say if it had affected the result of the 2016 vote.”

Tensions are mounting by the day over the U.K. government’s refusal to release the report on possible Russian interference in the country’s democratic processes. The length of the delay has been questioned by many commentators, including Dominic Grieve, the Chair of the Committee behind the report, who argued it was “bogus” to refuse publication.

Since the Bureau for Investigative Journalism launched legal action on November 13 in a bid to force Downing Street to publish the report before the December General Election, more details have been released regarding the prospective impact of Russian influence.

Though the contents of the report are still unknown, the Bureau reported on November 16 that their conversations with external experts on Russian influence – who are not legally prevented from voicing their evidence – have exposed concerns about Russian behavior, demonstrating the importance of the report’s publication.

Based on these discussions, the Bureau wrote that “inaction by the UK and its allies in the wake of Russia’s 2016 US electoral interference may have emboldened Moscow to graver acts”. They added that one expert “stressed that the failure to mount a strong response to Russia after its invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine had emboldened it to interfere on a greater scale than ever before in the 2016 US presidential election.” 

The Bureau also reported that “the U.K., several witnesses suggested, is in a good position to take action to deter Russian efforts at destabilization”, though this has been undermined by Russian attempts to influence finance and politics in the country.

The Bureau’s fundraising to support their legal action, which aims to force the report’s publication, raised £40,000 in four days.

The Guardian has also reported that Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander who was murdered in London in 2006, also plans to challenge the government’s decision not to release the report. She has previously voiced her disappointment that the report has not yet been released, saying that the delay helps Putin. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking to the BBC on November 15, refuted the idea of Russian interference in U.K. politics, saying “there’s no evidence of that”. He added: “I think that you’ve got to be very careful before you simply cast aspersions on everybody who comes from a certain country just because of their nationality.”

However, The Independent has suggested that his claim of no evidence contradicts the assessment of former Prime Minister Theresa May, who claimed in 2017 that Russia was attempting to meddle in British politics. 

Johnson also noted in the interview with the BBC that he sees “absolutely no reason to change the normal procedures for publishing ISC reports just because there is an election coming,” saying “they are not normally published at that pace.” 

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “If it is correct that our security services have been unable to reach a conclusion about the extent or impact of Russian interference in the 2016 referendum, then it raises serious questions which require serious answers about the safeguards in place for the upcoming election.”

“Boris Johnson therefore needs to clear up the confusion, spin and speculation around this ISC report by publishing it in full at the earliest opportunity.”

READ MORE: Should UK Publish Report on Russia’s Role in Brexit?

/By Juliette Bretan