Updated: Jul 27, 2020
By Alex De Boick
So, we finally have the Russia report after a ten-month delay from the original December release date after the redaction process was completed. With this in mind, we thought we would examine what the report has said, what the reaction has been, and what will happen now.
What the report said
The report found no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum but argues that this is because the government was not actively looking for it.
The UK is ‘clearly a target’ for Russian disinformation but the issue is a ‘hot potato’ with no organisation or institution wanting to take a lead.
Reactions to the report
The report suggested that because the government was not actively looking for Russian interference, we are effectively playing catch-up on Russia - emphasised by the fact that the report has been sat on for 10 months until long after the December election and just before parliament’s summer recess. The whole affair has been mired by controversy, especially within the conservative party - Julian Lewis had the whip removed for defying instructions from the government and standing for the leadership of the committee.
The government’s reaction has been to focus on the work that they are doing to combat other dangerous regimes as highlighted by a coincidental visit on the day of the report’s release by Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, to congratulate the prime minister on banning Huawei from Britain’s 5G tower project. Arguably, being tough on one regime cannot excuse leniencies on others as the Russian actions show, plus the government’s hypocrisies on Saudi Arabia, as explored by my colleague in a previous article.
Boris Johnson has said no country is more ‘vigilant’ about the threat posed by Russia but at Wednesday’s PMQs seemed more interested in viewing the report as an attack by disgruntled ‘Islingtonian remainers’ than answering questions from the opposition regarding security. Criticism has also been levelled at Sir Keir Starmer for allegedly staying quiet about Jeremy Corbyn’s statements during the Salisbury poisonings. The Government has further stated that an inquiry into Russian meddling in the referendum is not necessary as it has seen no evidence - though as mentioned earlier it has not been actively looking for it.
So, what’s next?
One of the suggested actions put forward by the intelligence committee is that a new Espionage act could help prevent individuals from acting on behalf of a foreign power from concealing their links with that country.
The government also introduced the so-called ‘Magnitsky Sanctions’ on 25 Russian individuals, preventing them from entering the UK. They are named after the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in prison after investigating corruption claims in Russia. We’ve previously written about Bill Browder’s book Red Notice that covers the affair in its entirety. Many people have expressed concern that these sanctions do very little to impact allegations that Britain remains a money-laundering hub for many corrupt Russian officials.
Dominic Grieve, the former MP who led the intelligence committee, has stated that one of the best starting points would be for the government to ‘desist from its childish interference in the workings of the intelligence and security committee.’
In a similar way to the pressure that was needed to release the report, it appears as though continued pressure will be needed to ensure that changes are actually made and plans are followed through.