THE RUSSIA REPORT
July 30, 2020
On Tuesday of last week, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published the long-awaited report on its enquiry into Russian interference in British Politics.
This investigation commenced in November 2017 and was completed in October 2019, but despite requests from many quarters, it was not released by the Committee until 21st July 2020. Boris Johnson failed to sanction its publication before the December General Election and then was reluctant to appoint members to form the new committee after the election. In fact, there was no meeting of this very important committee for over seven months. It was increasingly suspected by many that the Government had something to hide.
This reluctance was enforced by the fact that the Chairman of the Committee at the time of the investigation and compilation of the report was Dominic Grieve, a Liberal pro-European Conservative and no friend of Boris Johnson. He became an Independent when the Tory Whip was removed, in November 2019, after he voted against the Government’s Brexit proposals. It looks as if Johnson could not trust his findings and thus tried to suppress the report.
Eventually, the Prime Minister got round to forming the new committee from members elected in December 2019. The Committee consisted of nine members, five Conservatives, two Labour, one SNP and one from the House of Lords; thus, it had a built-in Government majority. It was expected that with such a majority, Johnson would get his own way with the committee and there would be no hurry by its members to publish the controversial Russia Report. His personal choice for Chairman was Chris Grayling, commonly known as “Failing Grayling” for his allegedly poor performance as Transport Secretary. He was expected toe the Party Line.
However, Dr Julian Lewis, a Tory member of the committee, went against his party and stood for the chair. On 15th July, he was elected, with support of the opposition members. The Russia Report was published within a week. For this, Lewis lost the Conservative Whip and now sits as an Independent MP.
The committee was asked to investigate the extent to which Russia had influenced UK democracy, politics and the conduct of elections. With a background of many Russian oligarchs investing in British companies, buying up prestigious properties and establishing bases in the UK, it was asked if they and the Russian Government had been influencing decisions made by politicians. Were they lobbying MPs for their personal advantage and were they interfering with the conduct and outcome of elections?
The unwillingness for Mr Johnson to sanction the publication of the report led to speculation that the Conservative Party had something to cover up. With Russians increasingly investing in Britain and evidence that many leading Tories were pandering to them, enticing them to spend money in the UK, it was assumed by many that there may be some underhand activity and that direct or indirect favours were being given. Would this report uncover a hornets’ nest?
The report also came in the light of the poisoning of a prominent Russian dissident and his daughter in Salisbury, allegedly prompted by the Russian Secret Service.
The published report did not drop the bombshell many expected. It described the UK as one of Russia’s “top targets” and stated that there was substantial evidence to say that Russian interference into the workings of the UK is common place. It says that Russian oligarchs and their money was welcomed with open arms, enabling them to recycle illicit finance through the London “laundromat”. There were connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures. This had occurred over a number of years and involved many governments.
There was speculation that there was undue influence in the conduct of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, the Brexit Referendum and the 2017 and 2019 General Elections. However, there was no firm evidence to say that there was.
It also became apparent from the report that the threat was not thought to be of high priority and the Intelligence Service did very little to investigate this incursion into UK security. No one agency wanted to take the lead on this matter and, it could be claimed, that the “authorities turned a blind eye to what was going on”. They looked the other way when it saw this sophisticated campaign to undermine Britain’s democracy.
This long-awaited report has officially exposed that there has been interference in UK politics by Russia, meddling in elections, spreading dissatisfaction and causing instability. It is evident that this situation exists but, in the eyes of Kevan James Labour member of the committee, “No one wanted to know.”