WATCH: Russians not clever enough to swing Brexit vote, says government
Russians may be clever but not so much as to sway the outcome of the Brexit referendum, a government frontbencher has bizarrely claimed.
Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Young of Cookham said available information indicated the influence of pro-Kremlin internet bots on the campaign was "fairly minimal" and did not account for the 1.3m more people who voted for Leave.
The Tory peer made his comments after concerns were raised at Westminster over Russian interference in the UK's democratic process.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, a former chief executive and election campaign director for the party, said: "Election law provides for the disqualification of a successful candidate in the event that that candidate is proven to be responsible for serious breaches of election law and for the setting aside of that election.
"In a referendum campaign if there is shown to be serious breaches of election law, for example through the illegal use of funding from Russia, shouldn't similar sanctions apply?"
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Lord Young said: "If he is suggesting we should re-run the European referendum, the clear answer is no.
"I believe we should respect the result of that referendum.
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"Such information as we have indicates that the influence of the Russian so-called bots was fairly minimal and I don't think it accounts for the 1.3m more people who voted for Leave rather than Remain.
"The Russians may be clever. I don't think they are that clever."
Earlier responding to a question from Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws over the resilience of Britain's democratic system to meddling by the Kremlin, Lord Young said: "The Government is alert to the threat of subversion and other means of seeking to manipulate the electoral process or undermine democratic institutions.
"The Government is committed to defending the UK from all forms of malign foreign state interference whether from Russia or any other state.
"We have systems in place to defend against electoral fraud at all levels and have seen no successful interference in UK democratic processes, but we are not complacent."