Russia report says government has not investigated interference in Brexit referendum

PUBLISHED: 10:44 21 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:55 21 July 2020

SNP MP Stewart Hosie, Conservative MP Julian Lewis and Labour MP Kevan Jones answer question from the media on the Russia report. Photograph: Parliament.

SNP MP Stewart Hosie, Conservative MP Julian Lewis and Labour MP Kevan Jones answer question from the media on the Russia report. Photograph: Parliament.

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The government has been accused of not doing enough to investigate Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, the Russia report has found.

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The report - issued on Tuesday following a nine-month wait - criticised the intelligence community and government for not dedicating enough resources to investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) noted there was “preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories” on Russia Today and Sputnik at the time of the vote, whilst there was also “the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’” on Twitter.

But when the parliamentary panel in charge of the investigation asked Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, for evidence on Russian meddling in the vote, they only received just six lines of text at first.

The report read: “We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference.

“This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public.

“Whilst the issues at stake in the EU referendum campaign are less clear-cut, it is nonetheless the Committee’s view that the UK intelligence community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published.”

It added: “Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”

The ISC said it would be “difficult - if not impossible - to prove” allegations Russia sought to influence the 2016 Brexit referendum but “the government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat”, particularly after finding evidence of meddling during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Speaking about the probe into alleged Russian interference in British democracy, Hosie said that no-one in government knew if Russia interfered or sought to influence the 2016 referendum “because they did not want to know”.

He told reporters: “There has been no assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum and this goes back to nobody wanting to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole.

“This is in stark contrast to the US response to reported interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“There should have been an assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum and there must now be one, and the public must be told the results of that assessment.”

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