Minister denies Tory government is purposely refusing to publish Russian interference report

PUBLISHED: 15:55 10 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:55 10 November 2019

A billboard featuring Russian leader Vladamir Putin in north London after an anonymous group of activists erected billboards suggesting a Brexit link between Russia and Britain. Photograph: Caitlin Doherty/PA.

A billboard featuring Russian leader Vladamir Putin in north London after an anonymous group of activists erected billboards suggesting a Brexit link between Russia and Britain. Photograph: Caitlin Doherty/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

Transport secretary has denied the government has delayed the publication of a report into Russian interference because it contains information that would embarrass the Conservative Party.

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Shapps instead blamed the "machinery of government" for the delay in publishing the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

His comments come after The Times said that nine Russian business people who gave money to the Conservative Party are named in the report which investigates the threats posed to UK democracy.

According to the paper, oligarchs and wealthy Tory donors are included in the report which is based around an 18-month inquiry into illicit Russian activities in Britain.

Chairman of the committee Dominic Grieve had previously accused the government of "sitting on the report" and said it was sent to the prime minister for approval on October 17.

Shapps said at the time of an election, the government of the day is "not allowed to publish things which are seen as controversial in any way".

He admitted he was "not close" to the report, but believes the fact that the report is delayed is "just the usual way that purdah works".

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics, when asked why the report had not been published, he said: "Let me just explain how these things work within government at this moment in time as you come up to an election.

"I wanted to publish some very trivial information, which was certainly not of any great, huge public interest, and I was blocked from doing so by the civil service machine because come an election you are not allowed to, into purdah, publish things which are seen as controversial in any way.

"So I suspect it's just the machinery of government."

Prior to the dissolution of parliament last week, when addressing MPs in the Commons, foreign secretary Dominic Raab denied the "insinuation" that Downing Street was "in the grip of a Kremlin mole".

Shapps suggested that the "usual" pre-election procedural delays are being wrongly turned into "there must be something here".

He added: "I just think as soon as you get to anything, as in the same way as spending plans and all the rest of it, they (civil service machine) will block almost any publishing come an election.

"And I suspect that's all that's happened here, which is then being turned into 'oh well there must be something here', when it's actually probably just the usual way that purdah, as it's called, works."

The government had argued that more time was needed to redact information.

However, former cabinet secretary Lord Butler and Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, had dismissed this response.

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