ANDREW ADONIS says the long-awaited Russia report further demonstrates the negligence of our government as our country becomes more isolated on the international stage.
The Russia report – finally out this week – reeks of negligence and weakness. Just consider this sentence from it: ‘In response to our request for written evidence at the outset of the Inquiry, MI5 initially provided just six lines of text.’
Or this one: ‘It was only when Russia completed a ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee in the US – with the stolen emails being made public a month after the EU referendum – that it appears that the Government belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area, given that the risk thresholds in the Kremlin had clearly shifted, describing the US ‘hack and leak’ as a ‘game changer’, and admitting that ‘prior to what we saw in the States [Russian interference] wasn’t generally understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.
The government headed by Cameron, May and Johnson ‘took its eye off the ball’ and is ‘still playing catch-up’, the report says. It doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to understand why this might have been. They didn’t want to know what Putin had been up to in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and they didn’t mobilise the security services to investigate it retrospectively, because they knew only too well what the answer might be and didn’t want to go there.
‘Who is protecting our democratic process?’ asked Kevan Jones, the Labour MP and member of the Intelligence and Security Committee which prepared the report a year ago. ‘In a nutshell, no-one is.’
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Putin, an intelligence officer in East Germany in the 1980s, turned himself into today’s Tsar by means of kleptomania and a reassertion of the military power and techniques of international destabilisation inherited from the Soviet Union. It is brilliantly described in Luke Harding’s new book Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West.
Lenin described his strategy vis-à-vis the West as ‘a state of partial war’ and Putin has been thoroughly Leninist in this regard. ‘This not-quite war involved the elastic and opportunist use of a wide variety of tactics,’ writes Harding. ‘They included deception, concealed penetration, and subversion and psychological warfare.’ And also, as he describes in pitiless detail, assassination and chemical weapon attacks on the streets of Salisbury.
Most of us in parliament suspected Putin’s actions throughout the long drawn-out post-2016 Brexit crisis. It strengthened the case for a second referendum before we left the EU, given the closeness of the 2016 result and the inability of May or Johnson to deliver even an approximation of the benefits of Brexit previously promised by the Leave campaign.
Since we left the EU in January, none of these concerns has weakened. On the contrary, Covid-19 has magnified the risks of diplomatic and economic isolation, while both Putin and now also Xi of China have turned themselves into life dictators whose belligerence and danger increase daily.
‘The way forward lies with taking action with our allies,’ concludes the report. ‘The West is strongest when it acts collectively and that is the way in which we can best attach a cost to Putin’s action.’ Yet the government to which the report is made does precisely the opposite, undermining collective action with our allies in Europe.
A constant refrain of the Brexiters is that the EU is on the verge of collapse, so there is a higher wisdom in preparing for a post-EU world. This British delusion goes right back to the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. My latest biographical subject Ernie Bevin, then foreign secretary, mistakenly thought this a utopian project which would never get off the ground. His Eurosceptic heirs thought the same about the common market and the euro.
Only a few months ago Covid-19 was similarly hailed by Brexiters as proof that the nation state was all we had, and supranationalism had become the new dodo.
Except the dodo is now alive, well, and growing wings. This week’s European Council, after the typical alarums and excursions required to broker agreement on an ambitious EU response to Covid-19, has agreed a bold new Marshall Plan for European recovery. Germany and France are in the driving seat. Britain, meanwhile, is ever more isolated and at the mercy of Putin and Xi.