Government rejects ISC’s call for inquiry into Russian interference in Brexit referendum

    This is from Damian Collins, the Conservative MP and a former chair of the Commons culture committee.

    Julian Lewis, the ISC chair, is wrapping up the press conference now.
    He says the committee has been subjected to “unprecedented delay and dislocation”. That must never happen again, he says. He says the sooner normal relations with government are resumed, the better, he says.
    But he says the government’s decision to make a written statement this morning (presumably its reply to the committee - see 11.38am), without giving the committee advance notice of what was in it, did not help.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Q: Do you think the government has been reluctant to investigate Russian interference in the Brexit referendum because it is run by the side that one?
    Stewart Hosie says the report is not saying that. It is just saying that the government did not investigate this, when it should have done, and that it should hold an inquiry now.
    Kevan Jones says it is not for the committee to take a view on that. If others want to, that’s up to them.
    He says democracy is a precious thing. We need to do what we can to protect it. And that was not done. It should be, because we are dealing with an adversary that will not go away soon, he says.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Q: Do the committee’s findings back claims that Russia wants to break up the UK (because of its interference in the Scottish independence referendum)?
    Stewart Hosie says after the 2014 referendum the Russian media did try to discredit the result (ie, fuelling claims that it was rigged against Yes). He says the conclusion was that this was primarily to discredit the UK in the eyes of a Russian audience.
    But that should have been enough to persuade the government to take Russian interference more seriously, he says.
    This is what the report says on this in paragraph 41.
    There has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. However, at the time ***. It appears that *** what some commentators have described as potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process. We note that – almost five years on – ***
    And this is what it says in a footnote to the paragraph.
    For example, it was widely reported shortly after the referendum that Russian election observers had suggested that there were irregularities in the conduct of the vote, and this position was widely pushed by Russian state media. We understand that HMG viewed this as being primarily aimed at discrediting the UK in the eyes of a domestic Russian audience. More recently, we note the study by Ben Nimmo – #ElectionWatch: Scottish Vote, Pro-Kremlin Trolls, 12 December 2017.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST

    Government rejects ISC's call for inquiry into Russian interference in Brexit referendum

    Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has published the government’s response to the ISC report. It runs to 20 pages and it’s here (pdf).
    We’ve been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK & our allies. We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy & our values from such Hostile State Activity. See the Government’s full response to the ISC Russia report here 👇
    — Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) July 21, 2020
    In it, the government rejects the call for a new inquiry into Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.
    Here is the recommendation from the ISC.
    [Paragraph 47] …Whilst the issues at stake in the EU referendum campaign are less clear-cut, it is nonetheless the committee’s view that the UK intelligence and security community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published.
    And here is the government’s response.
    We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum.
    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.
    Q: What do you think Russia seeks to gain from interfering in British politics? And is there any reason why they would not have interfered in the Brexit referendum?
    Kevan Jones says a lot of this is already known. The Russians were keen to amplify divisions, he says.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Q: Should the intelligence agencies have launched their own investigation anyway?
    Kevan Jones says there is a “genuine nervousness” in the intelligence agencies about getting involved in politics. It was for ministers to order an inquiry. And the evidence was there to justify one, he says.
    Q: So who is to blame? Are you talking about the Cameron government? The May government, and its foreign secretary, Boris Johnson? Or all of them?
    Stewart Hosie says people talk about a whole-of-government approach. But national security should be a cabinet decision, he says.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Kevan Jones says the government has spent the past week trying to discredit the report, implying its conclusions are out of date. They are not, he says.
    And he repeats his point about how the reasons being given by No 10 for the report being delayed are just “not true”.
    He says he has been “saddened” by this. The ISC does a serious job, he says. It is an important part of democracy. The way it has been treated by the government does not help, he says.
    Stewart Hosie says any lessons that could have been learned will now be learned later, perhaps too late to stop future cyber-attacks.
    He says the system for protecting the UK from cyber-attacks is too complicated.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Q: What should the government be doing now to rectify this?
    Hosie says the first step would be to investigate thoroughly whether there has been Russian interference.
    The House of Lords needs a revamp, he says.
    And he says the Official Secrets Act needs to be revised. At the moment it is not illegal to spy in the UK, he says. That should be changed, he says.
    Updated at 12.12 BST
    07.26 BST
    Q: Is there any evidence of criminal activity by MPs or peers taking money from Russians?
    Stewart Hosie says he won’t comment on allegations about criminality.
    But in the Commons any earnings over £100 have to be declared. That is not the case in the House of Lords, he says.
    He says that rule should be changed, so that peers and MPs are in the same situation.
    Kevan Jones says some names were given to the committee. But he does not want to comment on any people not named in the open report.
    Q: Why do you think that the government does not want to investigate this?
    Stewart Hosie says it is not because the intelligence agencies cannot do the job.
    Journalists need to ask the government, he says.
    He says it is hard to know why they would not want to act to protect the integrity of the electoral process

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