Tony Blair calls for an investigation into Russian involvement in Brexit referendum

PUBLISHED: 11:05 27 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:50 27 July 2020

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Tony Blair has called on the government to launch an investigation into alleged Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.

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The former Labour prime minister said the probe was a matter of national security.

Speaking after Boris Johnson dismissed a parliamentary committee’s recommendation for an investigation, Blair said: “We’re still with one of the best security services in the world - you’ve got to build the capability to investigate what foreign governments are trying to do in interfering with our system and expose it and the more you expose it, the less effective it will be or the less it will happen.

“I think it would be sensible to investigate what has happened but really, the most important thing is to create the capacity for the future, to make sure that you know what’s going on in your democratic politics because this interference - and it’s only one aspect of cyber-security, by the way - this interference is going to be more and more widespread because the capabilities are much greater.”

Blair’s comments come after the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a Westminster panel tasked with scrutinising Britain’s intelligence community, released a 50-page report detailing instances of Moscow’s interference in UK elections and institutions.

The document, dubbed the Russia report, claimed wealthy Russian figures with connection to president Vladimir Putin regularly donate to British political parties.

It called Russian involvement in British institutions the “new normal” and blasted successive governments for not wanting to address the issue of the 2016 vote with a “10-foot pole”.

According to a survey by pollsters Opinium, almost half of the British public (49%) think that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 vote, including 39% of those who voted for Leave and 63% who supported Remain.

Head of polling at Opinium, Adam Drummond, said: “Although the EU referendum is the most obvious example, what’s interesting is the consistent pattern across all election and referendums over the past five years where around half of voters believe that the Russian government interfered with our political process, and this belief is about twice as high among Remain voters as Leave voters.

“That said, the fact that more believe it happened than did not happen and that 66% of UK adults put Russia in the ‘threat’ category, suggests a degree of political consensus about the problem in the future.”

Touching on the committee’s findings, Blair added: “We live in a new world today where cyber-security is going to be a massive, massive question for government and there are governments that want to weaken the West; we know basically why they want to do it, and we’ve just got to make sure that they are all the time constrained.”

Blair added that it would be “foolish” to think the referendum result was a consequence of Russian interference.

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