The Government “let us down” by failing to protect the Brexit vote from Russian interference, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee have said.
The long-awaited report into Russian meddling said that it had not seen any evidence to suggest Russia had successfully meddled in the 2016 vote.
But committee member and SNP MP Stewart Hosie said the findings were “worse than that – the report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia sought to influence [the vote]… because they did not want to know.”
He claimed the Government has “actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered” saying any conclusion was “meaningless if they haven’t looked for it”.
Other key findings include:
Evidence to suggest Russia influenced 2014 Scottish independence referendum
Elite Russians with links to President Vladimir Putin have donated to UK political parties
‘No truth’ in Downing Street’s reasons for delaying report
Official Secrets Act ‘not fit for purpose’
‘Orchestrated phishing attempts against Foreign Office’ and other departments
Lack of transparency about House of Lords’ links with Russians
Follow the latest updates below.
Randox testing failure has slowed down asymptomatic testing, says Health Secretary
Matt Hancock is now giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, where Greg Clark kicks off by asking him if testing is now available for vulnerable people in sheltered accommodation, care homes and retirement villages.
The Health Secretary says testing has always been available for people with symptoms who need it, and now the message is “if in doubt, get a test”.
But work will begin this week to roll out asymptomatic testing to environments that are “sheltered accommodation that isn’t care homes”.
Mr Clark says he was told it would begin three weeks ago. Mr Hancock says it is “a challenge because there is a spectrum” of settings. The pair quibble over the dates, with the Health Secretary saying “this is where we are”.
He adds the problems with the Randox testing kits had slowed things down.
Britain’s reputation as world’s laundromat must end, says NGO
The Government has been called on to “urgently root out illicit wealth” and bring an end to Britain’s role as a “laundromat for dirty money” following the publication of the long-awaited report into Russian influence.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said this reputation had “major national security implications”.
He added: “The National Crime Agency should be properly resourced with the funds and powers to counter the threat posed by powerful individuals with suspicious wealth and links to hostile states. Those in the private sector should fulfil their duty as the first line of defence against dirty money, with firm penalties for those that fail to do this.
“Finally, parliamentary oversight and transparency should be strengthened to prevent MPs and peers from becoming unwitting agents of hostile states. Adopting these measures would ensure that Britain is more resilient in the face of hostile state action, making both our democracy and economy more secure.”
Lobby latest: No austerity, but there might be government cuts, Downing Street says
Government will not respond to coronavirus with austerity, Downing Street has insisted – but cuts could not be ruled out.
Rishi Sunak wrote to departments as they embark on a comprehensive spending review (CSR), saying “We must exercise restraint in future public sector pay awards”.
The Chancellor said there would not be a “fixed envelope” for spending, although confirmed it would grow in real terms as the Government seeks to “deliver on the commitments made at Budget to level up and invest in the priorities of the British people”.
Asked about call for restraint, the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted that the Government “will not be responding to this crisis with what has been called austerity”.
The spokesman said: “I think overall departmental spending will grow in real terms, across the spending review period for both capital and day to day spending.”
However, the spokesman does not rule out cuts in some departments.
Lobby latest: Downing Street talks tough on dirty money
Downing Street has said the Government will act against money laundering, after the Intelligence and Security Committee report claimed that Russians had used London as a “laundromat”.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that financing money obtained through criminality is “never welcome” in the UK.
“There should be no doubt we will use the full weight of law enforcement to bear down on those of us who look to us to move or hide the proceeds of crime,” the spokesman said.
Lobby latest: Evidence of Russian meddling in Brexit vote would ’emerge through existing purposes’
Evidence of any Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum would have already surfaced if it were there, Downing Street has claimed.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman shrugged off the Intelligence and Security Committee’s recommendation that a new review be carried out into what if any involvement there was in the Brexit vote.
He said if there were evidence available “to be found it would emerge through existing purposes”.
“We haven’t seen any evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum,” the spokesman added.
Lobby latest: Justice for Harry Dunn raised during PM’s Pompeo meeting
Boris Johnson “reiterated the need for justice” for Harry Dunn’s family during his meeting with Mike Pompeo today, and the “strong feeling” that justice should be delivered.
The Prime Minister and Mr Pompeo discussed Five Eyes, taking an ambitious approach to technologies of the future and a “range of foreign policy issues” including Hong Kong.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “One of the issues which has been brought into sharp focus by 5G is the need to have more diversity in the market and for close partners such as the UK and the US and Five Eyes to work together, not just on 5G but obviously on the telecommunications of the future.”
They also discussed a UK-US free trade agreement and the will for “an agreement that will be for the benefit” of both American and British people.
Lobby latest: Russia must ‘choose different path’ says Number 10
The Government will maintain a dialogue with Moscow, but he urged Russia to “choose a different path” to establish a proper relationship.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said there can be “no normalisation” of the relationship until Russia ends the “destabilising activity that threatens the UK and our allies and undermines the safety of our citizens and our collective security”.
Asked about the recommendation of the ISC report to replace the “outdated” Official Secrets Act with a new Espionage Act, the spokesman confirms it is something the Government is “actively looking at”.
30pc of Britons failed by online connection during lockdown, MPs told
Nearly a third of people had online connections that did not meet their needs during the pandemic, cutting them off from vital services such as shopping and banking, MPs have been told.
Members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee heard that those without reliable broadband of mobile signal were left isolated during lockdown.
Richard Piggin, head of external affairs at consumer group Which? said around 30 per cent of people had struggled with their connection during this critical time.
“The last few months have reinforced just how important it is to have good quality broadband and mobile connections, and they’ve also highlighted that there is still a digital divide across the country,” he said.
“It might seem obvious, but those with good quality broadband will have been able to work from home, stay in touch with friends and family and home school.
“Those without good quality connections will have struggled to do all of those things and will have struggled to engage in many important day-to-day activities, whether that’s shopping for groceries online or banking online.”
Have your say: Should Government assess Russia’s influence on Brexit vote?
The Intelligence and Security Committee has been clear: there should be an assessment carried out to determine whether there was Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.
Opposition parties have backed this, saying it would be an important step in better understanding how to protect our democratic processes from future interference. The Government insists there is no evidence of any “successful” involvement – but critics point out that this is a “hollow” statement because no one knows.
So should the Government look into it – or does it risk reigniting calls for a second referendum all over again?
Have your say in the poll below.
Mike Pompeo praises ‘candid’ meeting with Boris Johnson
Mike Pompeo had a “constructive” and “candid” meeting with Boris Johnson today, the US Secretary of State has said.
Donald Trump’s chief foreign affairs adviser tweeted that the long-standing relationship between the UK and the US had “laid the foundation for today’s candid discussion” including 5G and a future trade agreement.
Mr Pompeo has also met with senior backbench Tories who are concerned that Number 10 isn’t moving fast enough against China.
Constructive visit with @BorisJohnson today. Our two countries’ long-standing, strong bilateral relationship has laid the foundation for today’s candid discussion on issues ranging from 5G telecommunication to our negotiations for a U.S.-UK free trade agreement. pic.twitter.com/9j1o3bK8e6
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 21, 2020
UK is “world centre of money laundering”, claims Bill Browder
Bill Browder says there are “severe obstacles” to overcoming Russia’s malign influence but he is optimistic about the future.
The new Magnitsky regime recently introduced in the UK has frozen assets belonging to some 25 Russian individuals, and today’s report is another step forward, he adds, with recommendations around money laundering and lobbying transparency.
“This report is a good report, but a lot more still needs to be done,” he told Sky News.
But the UK is “the world centre for money laundering”, he adds.
Mr Browder explains that he “traced the money” that his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky had originally identified, before being arrested and dying in Russian prison.
“We have traced the money to around 25 different countries… and one of the weakest reactions we have gotten is from the UK,” he noted, comparing the response here unfavourably to that of Latvia.
National Crime Agency must be reformed to go after ‘dirty Russian money’, says Bill Browder
Bill Browder has said the National Crime Agency needs to be reformed so it can “start going after dirty Russian money”, claiming the body has turned a blind eye to cases he has brought forward.
The Hermitage Capital boss, whose lawyer Sergei Magnitksy was arrested and died in Russian custody after investigating massive fraud, told Sky News: “The [UK] law is good…. the problem is not the law, it is with the law enforcement.”
He said the police needed to “do their job properly” in going after “Putin’s cronies”, saying instead they were targeting “enemies of dictators”.
But the National Crime Agency is “the main body the needs to be reformed – they have not prosecuted any significant cases”, despite Mr Browder having brought them cases “connected to the murder of my lawyer”.
Mr Browder then claims he has been told NCA staff were “forbidden from pursuing the case”.
British law-makers must be ‘held to account’ over Russia links
Financier and long-time Putin critic Bill Browder has said British law makers must be “held to account” over links to the Kremlin, following the publication of the long-awaited Russian report.
The Hermitage Capital boss, whose lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was arrested while investigating massive fraud in Russia and died while in custody, told Sky News that he did not believe financial institutions were “at the core of this problem” although they had “conflicts of interest”.
But “they aren’t driving the process – that is being driven by law makers,” Mr Browder said. “Those are the people i find are the ones that need to be held to account.”
Browder, who was arrested by Spanish authorities on a Russian Interpol warrant in 2018, said the question was “what do we do about these Western enablers”, noting that there were members of the House of Lords from both parties, former officials and others who were “very well connected to top of the British establishment”.
But there was “a huge number of people feeding at the Russian trough in London”, he noted, with that money coming “from very dubious sources”.
PM warns of ‘bumpy months’ in first face-to-face Cabinet meeting
The UK faces more “bumpy months” as it copes with the impact of coronavirus on the nation’s health and finances, Boris Johnson has told his most senior colleagues.
Cabinet met face-to-face for the first time since March this morning, in an attempt to show that it is safe to return to workplaces.
Ministers were required to remain at least a metre apart, there was hand sanitiser available on entry and exit and they were all given individual water bottles rather than sharing jugs.
Mr Johnson warned there will be “difficult months ahead for our people and our country, but no-one will be without hope.
He added: “For the next few months we have to strike a balance – we have to continue to push down on this virus and keep it under control in the heroic way the British people have managed so far.
“But we must also cautiously, while observing the rules on social distancing, get our economy moving again and get our people back into work.”
Tory MP referred over string of messages to young staffers
A Conservative MP has been referred to Parliament’s standards body over WhatsApp texts allegedly sent to a young female intern and a male worker at Parliament.
Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn, North Wales since 2019, has not yet responded to the allegations, which first surfaced last month on the Guido Fawkes website.
The intern was sent a string of messages by the 40-year-old MP, according to BBC Wales.
Mr Roberts’ parliamentary office, constituency office, local Conservative Association and the Conservative Party HQ, have not responded to calls from the PA news agency.
The MP recently split from his wife and publicly came out as gay.
Labour raises questions over BBC’s ‘offer it couldn’t refuse’
The Government and the BBC have been attacked by Labour for agreeing a deal that risks “breaking a promise to millions of pensioners”.
Shadow media minister Christian Matheson claimed the settlement agreement was “an offer [the BBC] couldn’t refuse: take on responsibility for paying the over-75s’ TV licence or we’ll slash your funding even further and consider removing the licence fee altogether.”
He added: “Is it perhaps merely a coincidence that the then-chair of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead was later elevated to the peerage as the noble Baroness Fairhead taking the Conservative whip a short time later?
“The Conservatives had a manifesto promise to maintain the over-75s’ licence, they broke it. Instead they passed responsibility onto the BBC knowing that it would never be able to afford that responsibility.
“Since then they have tried to blame the BBC at every turn, at every cut of every service, at every redundancy and no doubt they will try to blame the BBC when the bills start landing in August and September on pensioners’ doorsteps.
“But this is a deal the Conservative Government themselves were party too, so does the minister not accept that the Government should own some of the blame?”
BBC must go beyond ‘metropolitan bubbles’, says culture minister
The BBC has a duty to report on local issues and not just to reflect the views of the “metropolitan bubbles” of London and Manchester, a minister has said.
Speaking in the Commons, culture minister John Whittingdale said that while “operational and editorial decisions” were a matter for the broadcaster, the Government believed that “the BBC must represent all of Britain”.
He added: “We set clear targets for news and current affairs and the need to represent to all parts of the UK in the Charter as part of the BBC’s mission and public purposes.
“It is for the BBC and Ofcom to hold it to account on doing so. That means engaging and reporting on local issues across our diverse communities, not just reflecting the views of the metropolitan bubbles of London and Manchester.”
Russia report highlights need for immediate action on online regulation, says DCMS committee
The Russian report underscores the need for immediate action to tackle misinformation online, the DCMS Committee chairman has said.
Julian Knight and his committee this morning published their own report claiming misinformation about Covid-19 “was allowed to spread virulently across social media” because legislation that had been promised by the Government 15 months ago is still not in place.
Online harms include dangerous hoax treatments and conspiracy theories that led to attacks on 5G engineers.
Mr Knight said: “That the Intelligence and Security Committee has released its report on Russian interference on the day that we’re urging the government to get on with long promised legislation to protect against online harms piles on the evidence, should it be needed, that there can be no excuse for further delay.
“The predecessor DCMS Committee repeatedly sought information from the government about the level of suspected Russian interference in politics and called for an independent investigation to uncover the impact of disinformation here in the UK and globally.”
Russia wants ‘instability’ to win, says Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt has said he is confident the Russians had not “done anything at any stage” that affected the outcome of recent votes in the UK.
But the former Health Secretary told Sky News the Government was aware of “an escalating picture of aggressive Russian attempts to interfere” in democratic processes as part of a new strategy to “destabilise us”.
He says he was “told repeatedly there was no evidence” that it affected the result of votes.
Mr Hunt also said there was “no ideological consistency” to what Russia was doing “they just want the side that is going to create the most instability to win”>
Jeremy Hunt accepts he ‘got it wrong’ as Health Secretary
Jeremy Hunt has said he shares the blame for the UK not being prepared to deal with the pandemic, noting that the work carried out under him had been “focused on flu, not Sars or Mers-type viruss”.
The former Health Secretary said: “I have to take responsibility for the fact we got that wrong. But we also got it wrong in January because we know we could have ramped up that testing capacity in four weeks, because that is what we did in April.”
The Health Committee chair told Sky News the Government was doing with the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty had “advised it to do, but other experts said it was too late”.
He noted that other countries had been more successful by acting more quickly at that point.
Mr Hunt said the only way to avoid preventable deaths was to act during this “grace period” and ensure lessons are learned.
Ministers should be “working flat out” to roll out the flu vaccine, ensure regular testing of hospital staff and getting the Test and Trace system in place, the former minister said.
But we have a “good chance” of avoiding a second lockdown, Mr Hunt noted.
Delay between advice and action ‘no more than you’d reasonably expect’, says Prof Whitty
Ministers followed scientific advice with a “delay that was no more than you would reasonably expect”, Professor Chris Whitty has said.
Asked by chairman Jeremy Hunt if he was “content” the Government followed his advice on staging different elements of the lockdown, Prof Whitty said: “Ministers at the time, who were put in an incredibly difficult position, in my view, followed the advice given by Sage, which are clearly signposted through the minutes of Sage, with a delay that was no more than you would reasonably expect for what are really very difficult things to operationalise and decide.
“And I think I’d make a slightly further comment, which is obviously to be able to do this, there was a bit of signposting sometimes we may have to go further. And ministers were aware of that and they said that at the time.
“So, for example on the 16th (of March), my memory is that the Prime Minister did not announce schools closing, but I think he did say at that time, ‘and we might need to consider schools closing’.”
Prof Whitty added: “But I do not think, I’m not saying now and I’m not going to say at any point, to be clear, that in my view there was huge delay between the advice that ministers received given the enormity of the difficulties that we were asking of people and the practical implications of what was being done.”
Prof Whitty defends Sage on testing
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said the lack of testing capacity meant it was “impractical” to continue the test, track and isolate strategy that was initially deployed in the country.
He told the Health and Social Care Committee: “It was clearly at a certain point impractical for us to continue to do this as a strategy, it was going to pick up such a small proportion, and the testing we had had to be deployed to the higher risk areas.”
During a heated exchange with committee chair Jeremy Hunt, Prof Whitty said that “many problems” emerged from a lack of Covid-19 testing capacity.
“I’m absolutely confident, chair, and let me be very clear about this, that we had no capacity to do it on the scale that would have been needed, or for the kind of epidemic we had,” he said. “Sage was consistent, and I was consistent, in saying we needed considerably more testing capacity.
“Many of the problems we had came out of our lack of testing capacity, but testing alone is not sufficient to have a full test and contact, trace and isolate system.
“This requires an infrastructure we did not have, which was built up by places like Korea.”
‘Not realistic’ to think coronavirus can be eliminated, MPs told
It is “not realistic” to think coronavirus could be eliminated totally, MPs have been told.
Professor Sir John Bell, of the University of Oxford, told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that the disease “isn’t going anywhere”.
“Look at how much trouble they’ve had in eliminating, for example, polio, that eradication programme has been going on for 15 years and they’re still not there,” Sir John said.
“So this is going to come and go, and we’re going to get winters where we get a lot of this virus back in action.
“The vaccine is unlikely to have a durable effect that’ll last for a very long time, so we’re going to have to have a continual cycle of vaccinations, and then more disease, and more vaccinations and more disease.
“So I think the idea that we’re going to eliminate it across the population, that’s just not realistic.”
Lockdown was ‘too late’ and meant coronavirus ‘expanded faster’, MPs told
The lockdown was “too late”, and led to the epidemic “expanding faster” than it would have otherwise done, a Sage scientist has said.
Speaking to the Health and Social Care Committee, the Wellcome Trust director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar said: “I believe lockdown was too late, I believe lockdown should have come in earlier.
“And indeed, in the weekend following that Sage meeting, there were pressure and urgency to lock down immediately, within the next 24 hours of that weekend, in the coming week.
“And I think that delay did lead to the epidemic expanding faster than would have been needed if the lockdown had been imposed earlier, and that week was a critical week for the subsequent events in the epidemic.”
Coronavirus will ‘not be done by Christmas’ MPs told
I’m just going to leave the Russia report to turn back to the Health and Social Care Committee, which has been receiving some interesting evidence from medical experts this morning.
Wellcome Trust director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar has warned that the world will be living with Covid-19 for “very many, many years to come”.
Although last week the Prime Minister said there will be some “normality” by November, in order for people to celebrate Christmas, Sir Jeremy told MPs : “Things will not be done by Christmas. This infection is not going away, it’s now a human endemic infection.
“Even, actually, if we have a vaccine or very good treatments, humanity will still be living with this virus for very many, many years to come.
“We need to keep the urgency in place in June, July and August, but we need to move now to a consistent long-term approach to this.
“Because humanity will be living with this infection for decades to come.”
Russia will learn from amateurish mistakes of Salisbury poisoning
Turning back to the report itself, the Intelligence and Security committee has warned that Russia will learn from the amateurish mistakes of its agents in the Salisbury poisoning attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter which means it would “become more difficult to detect and protect against as a result.”
It said Russia was “one of the hardest intelligence challenges that there is” partly because its decision-making was concentrated on Putin and a small group of trusted and secretive advisers which made it hard to penetrate.
Putin had “consciously retained and cultivated this ‘decision-advantage’ as a way of outmanoeuvring adversaries,” the MPs said.
Britain and its allies had been slow to respond to Russia annexing of Crimea but had been “impressive” in the speed of its response to the Salisbury poisoning attack.
Former ISC chair rejects Government’s claim that there is no evidence of Russian interference in Brexit vote
Dominic Grieve, the former chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, has pushed back against the Government’s claim that there was no evidence of successful influence in the Brexit vote, saying this cannot be proven.
Speaking with Sky News, he said: “The point that we made in our report is that nobody looked to see if there was Russian interference and frankly from the evidence we saw at the time nobody has been looking since.”
The committee had hoped to find out if there had been involvement in recent votes but “found ourselves in great difficulty because we couldn’t answer the question that we had set out to answer”, he noted.
There should be “clear partisan desire” to protect British democracy and that agencies could monitor things more closely.
There were “clear signs from 2014 onwards” that this activity was being engaged in, Mr Grieve added. “Simply saying that was in the past I don’t think is an adequate response.”
Brexit ‘a gift’ to Putin, says Guy Verhofstadt
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has tweeted a link to the full response to the Russia report, saying the Government will be “resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values” from hostile attacks.
However it seems pretty clear the Government is rejecting calls for a new assessment of the 2016 vote.
Meanwhile Guy Verhofstadt has said Brexit was “always a gift to Putin because it weakened the European Union and left Britain divided, isolated”.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) July 21, 2020
Have your say: Should there be an assessment of Brexit referendum?
The Government has been called on to carry out an assessment of whether Russia tried to influence the 2016 EU referendum, after coming under attack for the lack of knowledge of what went on.
The Intelligence and Security Committee, which is chaired by pro-Leave MP Julian Lewis, said it would be impossible to “quantify” the extent any influence may have had on the final vote but Stewart Hosie noted “the real shock” was that the Government “did not seek to understand the scale or scope” of political interference in the Brexit vote.
However the Government has rejected such calls, saying assessments are regularly carried out and there is no need for any further work.
So what do you think? Have your say in the poll below.
‘Keep our country safe’ Labour tells Boris Johnson
Labour has attacked Boris Johnson for delaying publication of the Russia report, and called on the Government to take the necessary steps to “keep our country safe”.
“It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, took the political decision last October ahead of the General Election to block the publication of this important report that systematically goes through the threat Russia poses to the UK’s national security,” said Lisa Nandy.
“The report is very clear that the Government has underestimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made.
“The Labour Party calls on the Government to study the conclusions of the report carefully and take the necessary steps to keep our country safe.”
Government rejects call for assessment into Brexit referendum
The Government has rejected the call for an assessment of alleged Russian activity during the Brexit referendum, saying there is “no evidence of successful interference”.
In a 20-page response, the Government says intelligence agencies produce “regular assessments” of hostile state activity, which are kept under review.
“Where new information emerges, the Government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence it develops or receives, including whether it is appropriate to make this public.
“Given this long standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU Referendum is not necessary.”
The Government has also rejected the suggestion it had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat.
“The Government has long recognised there is an enduring and significant threat posed by Russia to the UK and its allies, including conventional military capabilities, disinformation, illicit finance, influence operations, and cyber-attacks,” the official response to the report said.
“As such, Russia remains a top national security priority for the Government.”
‘Credible’ evidence that Russia influenced Scottish indy ref
There is “credible open source commentary” suggesting that Russia engaged in influence campaigns in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the Intelligence and Security Committee report says.
This has been described by some as the “first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process”.
Blair McDougall, the director of the victorious Better Together campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, has tweeted: “Hardly a surprise. It’s been happening in plain sight.
“Putin’s propaganda arm: funds Salmond & Ahmed-Sheikh; has Tommy Sheridan as a columnist; a former SNP staffer as bureau chief; a pro independence exec producer; and two independence campaigners as their broadcast anchors. “
Downing Street did not protect Brexit vote from Russian intereference, report claims
Downing Street “belatedly realised the level of threat” posed by Russia, only realising after thousands of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails that had been stolen were leaked a month after the EU referendum took place.
Had the UK carried out a threat assessment it is “inconceivable” that they would not have reached the same conclusion as to Russian intent” as to one reached in May 2017 “which might then have led them to take action to protect the process”.
The committee was also critical of the lack of “post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference”, saying: “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.”
Russia report: UK ‘badly underestimated Russian threat’
Another key finding in the Russian report, which was alluded to earlier on in the press conference, is that the focus of intelligence agencies on Russia sharply declined in the early 2000s and was diverted to tackling terrorism instead.
The committee says the UK Government “badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required”, having “aspired to partner with Russia” after the end of the Cold War.
While the report recognises the security services’ “finite amount of resource” and focus on terrorism, it says: “reacting to the here and now is inherently inefficient.”
In 2000, 20% of MI5’s work was on ‘hostile state activity’, which fell to 16% after 9/11 and 3% in 2008 – before increasing to 14.5% in 2013, by which time more staff worked on Russia than had during the Cold War.
At the height of the Cold War, 70% of GCHQ’s effort was focused on the Soviet bloc – by 2006 this fell to 4%. 2016 saw a “significant” increase in resources in GCHQ devoted to Russia.
The report says: “The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was perhaps the clearest indication that not only had reconciliation failed, but Russia was once again just as hostile towards the West, and towards the UK.”
Russian report: ‘Any damage to West fundamentally good for Russia’
One of the big questions centres around the very purpose of Russian involvement in other countries’ democratic processes.
The report says: “Russia seems to see foreign policy as a zero-sum game: any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia.
“It is also seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.
“There is also a sense that Russia believes that an undemocratic ‘might is right’ world order plays to its strengths, which leads it to seek to undermine the Rules Based International Order – whilst nonetheless benefitting from its membership of international political and economic institutions.
“Russia’s substantive aims, however, are relatively limited: it wishes to be seen as a resurgent ‘great power’ – in particular, dominating the countries of the former USSR – and to ensure that the privileged position of its leadership clique is not damaged.”
Report finds ‘orchestrated phishing attempts against Foreign Office’
I am just going to turn away from the press conference to start delving into the report itself.
On the subject of cyber attacks against the UK, the report says GCHQ has detected “orchestrated phishing attempts against Government departments” including the Foreign Office and the Porton Down laboratory during the investigation into the Salisbury poisonings.
As well as using its own intelligence agencies, Russia “has sought to employ organised crime groups to supplement its cyber skills”.
MI6 has described this as “the very muddy nexus between business and corruption and state power in Russia”.
‘Beyond this committee’ why Government never requested info on Russian interference
Stewart Hosie says whichever party or parties in Government “the one thing they would want to ensure” is robustness of and trust in the democratic process.
He added: “It is beyond this committee to understand why there has been such an omission, and that information of potential interference was never requested.”
Let’s hope those opinions and minds have changed, he adds.
Arron Banks just a footnote in the Russia report
Asked about Arron Banks, who claims that the report exonerates him, Kevan Jones points to “footnote 50 on page 13”.
Banks has retweeted a couple of posts – one by Nigel Farage which you can see below
So, no evidence of Russian interference in the referendum. Some serious apologies are due.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 21, 2020
Here’s what that footnote says:
We note that Arron Banks became the biggest donor in British political history when he gave £8m to the Leave.EU campaign. In October 2018, the Electoral Commission – which had been investigating the source of this donation – referred the case to the National Crime Agency, which investigated it ***. In September 2019, the National Crime Agency announced that it had concluded the investigation, having found no evidence that any criminal offences had been committed under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 or company law by any of the individuals or organisations referred to it by the Electoral Commission.
I hope this is the start of watershed, says Intelligence and Security Committee member
Stewart Hosie says it is not possible to know if the leaked documents amplified by Russia during the 2019 election are the worst form of interference so far.
He says it is “shocking” that we do not know this.
Kevan Jones agrees it “did shock me” that the Government did not look in this area, given there was “clear evidence” of hack and leaks in US and French elections.
“Government thought it wasn’t necessary to look in terms of how it affected those elections,” he added.
Asked if they think the Government is now taking it seriously, Mr Hosie says “yes” because now matters are being talked about seriously in the public domain.
“There is an understanding now that state and non-state operators behave… this will now become part of the firmament… how we stamp it out and protect the democratic processes,” he adds. “I do hope this is the start of a watershed.”
Government must ‘sit up and pay attention’, says Intelligence and Security Committee
Stewart Hosie says it would be “impossible to quantify the impact of interference” and whether it had been successful or otherwise.
“But they had not sought even to ask that question – that is at the heart of this report”.
Kevan Jones says there was no evidence because “no one had actually asked” for it to be put together.
The committee decided it “can’t make a judgement call” on whether the referendum was influenced on that basis.
Mr Hosie says it is “self-evident” that the Government should now “sit up and pay attention”.
Committee blasts ‘lack of curiosity’ at heart of Government
Stewart Hosie says only MI5 can “self-task” and all other agencies required to be tasked.
But he notes “the lack of curiosity” from the heart of Government following the DNC emails hack.
“Work has not been done,” he adds.
Kevan Jones says there is “quite rightly” a reluctance of agencies to get involved in electoral matters.
But there were “flashing lights” in terms of the Scottish referendum and the DNC emails “and that is a political question… and should have been looked at.
“That is a major failing,” he adds.
He notes you could not “quantify” the level of threat, but mitigations could be taken to prevent such a threat in future elections.
‘Scandal’ of Government response is ‘no attempt made’ to find evidence
Kevan Jones says the evidence provided by the Government says they had not seen any evidence of successful interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
But “the scandal” is because “no attempt was made to look at it”, adding: “It’s a pretty hollow statement”.
Kevan Jones says there is “a new thing that if Number 10 says something it has to be true” but in the case of the report’s delayed publication that is clearly not the case.
Government ‘let us down’ on failure to check Russian interference
The Committee turns to questions now and is asked who is responsible for the failings.
Stewart Hosie says he doesnt want to say the UK Government “deliberately avoided asking questions, but nonetheless they did avoid asking questions”.
After the DNC hack and the 2014 independence referendum, “it must have been clear” that the Brexit referendum was a risk.
“An act of omission it was nevertheless,” he says, noting that it has left the UK “vulnerable” because the scale of impact is not known.
Kevan Jones says the Government “let us down”, adding; “It wasn’t some wild phishing expedition you were going on… some serious questions need to be asked why ministers didn’t then see that they hold at least look at the level of Russian interference in elections.”
He calls last Thursday’s statement “remarkable” considering the “complete silence” before.
Government ‘took its eye off the ball’ with Russia and is still ‘playing catch up’
The UK Government “took its eye off the ball” because of its focus on counter-terrorism, Stewart Hosie says.
The Intelligence and Security Committee member says the Government has “badly underestimated” the threat posed by Putin’s Kremlin.
The UK is “still playing catch up” as a result.
He called for intelligence agencies here to have tools to tackle the challenged. The Official Secrets Act is “simply not fit for purpose”, and until that is changed the agencies’ hands are tied, eh added.
Kevan Jones then calls for international consensus to deal with the threat.
“The West is strong when it acts collectively, and the UK needs to take a leading role in that,” he says.
Following the Salisbury attack, the international reaction was “unprecedented”, but sent a “clear and strong message that actions would not be tolerated”.
We must build on that momentum, and momentum must not be lost, he adds.
Russian interference ‘the new normal’, says Intelligence and Security Committee
Kevan Jones says the outrage isn’t that there is interference, but that “no one wants to know” if there was any.
What we do know is that Russian interference is “the new normal”.
There are a lot of Russians with close links to Putin who are “integrated” within what has now been called “Londongrad”.
Few, if any questions have been asked about some of these individuals wealth, which has opened the door to “the London laundromat”.
There is now a “buffer” of Westerners, he adds. To a certain extent, this cannot be untangled.
But where hostile activity is uncovered, tools must be provided to tackle it.
Stewart Hosie says it is “notable” that a number of Lords have ties with Russian businesses and individuals, saying there must be “complete transparency” at all levels. That is not the case at the House of Lords at the moment, he says.
Nothing can ‘take the sting’ from Russia report finding, claims committee
Stewart Hosie says there has been no assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 vote, “in stark contrast” to the US approach.
He says that “no matter how awkward or politically embarrassing” one should take place and the public must be told the outcome, he says.
Mr Hosie notes there was “considerable suspicion” about the timing of the Government’s claims about Russian involvement in the 2019 election, but says there is “nothing that can take the sting” away from this report’s findings.
Government ‘actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered’ in Brexit vote
No one in Government knows if Russia sought to influence the 2016 Brexit vote, “because they did not want to know”, Intelligence and Security Committee member Stewart Hosie has said.
He noted it would be “difficult if not impossible to prove” whether such efforts had been successful.
But while speculation had suggested the report would prove there had been meddling, Mr Hosie said the committee’s findings were “worse than that – the report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia sought to influence [the vote]… because they did not want to know.”
He claimed the Government has “actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered” saying any conclusion was “meaningless if they haven’t looked for it”.
Mr Hosie added: “It is astonishing that no one in government had sought beforehand to protect the process.”
UK must ‘grip’ democratic threat now, says Intelligence and Security Committee
The UK’s paper based voting system makes it difficult to interfere at that level, which is why outside parties seek to influence opinion.
No one was prepared to accept the overall lead in challenging this, says Kevan Jones.
There is considerable nervousness about intelligence agencies getting involved in demoractic processes, which is right.
But DCMS and the Electoral Commission cannot do it alone, he adds. “Protecting it must be a ministerial priority”, with the Home Office’s counter-terrorism arm taking the lead alongside MI5.
“This needs to be gripped now,” he says.
UK intelligence structure has ‘bizarrely complicated wiring’, says committee member
SNP MP Stewart Hosie goes through the purpose of Russia’s involvement in Western democracy, noting that it is “fuelled by paranoia”.
It is “an immediate threat to national security”, he says.
There is no clear coordination across UK intelligence organisations, he says and a “bizarrely complicated wiring diagram” between ministers for “no good reason”.
The committee welcomes a new coordinated approach to “naming and shaming” those involved in attacks, Mr Hosie adds.
No reason for Russia report delay, says Intelligence and Security Committee member
Labour MP Kevan Jones says there was “no reason” for the Russian report to be delayed.
He says it is “not true” that there were only six days during which it could have been published – Number 10’s explanation for the delay.
He claims it is “categorically not true” that the proper processes had been followed.
The Prime Minister had been sent the report on October 17, and took “a record time” in responding, which he did so the day after the election.
The committee waited “a record time” to be convened, he adds.
There has been some effort to discredit the report because of this delay, Mr Jones says, but it is not “stale” or out of date, he adds.
Intelligence and Security Committee sets out findings of Russia report
Julian Lewis is now setting out the findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee, praising his predecessor Dominic Grieve for the work carried out.
Dr Lewis says he is not in a position to discuss the findings, but committee colleagues Stewart Hosie and Kevan Jones will do so.
Mr Jones likewise thanks Mr Grieve, the intelligence community and academics for their help.
Delay in response to coronavirus UK Government’s ‘biggest single failure’, MPs told
The UK’s failure to act earlier is the “biggest single failure” in the Government’s response to coronavirus, Sir John Bell has said.
The Regius Professor of the University of Oxford said: “We should not be proud of fact we needed up with system with no resilience to pandemics. The biggest single failure was not being on the front foot.”
He told MPs that Singapore started “preparing for trouble” in the first week of January, whereas it took us until the end of February, beginning of March”.
Hospital staff not tested because NHS was ‘afraid’ of what it would reveal, MPs told
The NHS may not have tested frontline workers because “they were afraid” it would uncover widespread transmission and they would “have to send everyone home”, MPs have been told.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor at the University of Oxford, has said failure to ramp up testing was “a major oversight”.
“As the numbers of cases rose in late March and April, what became very clear was the NHS lab capacity had been completely overwhelmed… PHE was completely out of their depth,” he told MPs.
Noting what had been seen in Italy, he says it “wasn’t a novelty” that healthcare workers should be tested.
“As time went on there still wasn’t a real push to do healthcare workers, and indeed all patients,” he added.
“There was a suspicion, which I think is probably correct, that NHS institutions and the NHS were avoiding testing their hospital workers because they were afraid they would find the sorts of levels that have been described and have to send everyone home and not have a workforce.
“That is not an ethical approach to the problem – you can’t not test people because you’re worried about human resources problem.”
UK risks ‘sleepwalking into winter of discontent’ without clarity on decision-making
MPs have been warned that the UK risks “sleepwalking into a winter of discontent”, if it is not made clear who is making decisions and who is in charge.
Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, attacked the decision to create Lighthouse Laboratories, saying the idea they could be delivered in time to help with the pandemic “was clearly a big mistake”, but he had “no idea” whose decision it was to do that.
He called for greater clarity for who is making decisions including ministers, advisers and scientists, saying: “Unless we get that straight we may run the risk of sleepwalking into a winter of discontent.
“We need greater clarity about governance and who is in charge,” he told the Health and Social Care Committee.
Sir Paul also urged systematic testing for healthcare workers, noting they are putting their lives at risk.
There was ‘not enough urgency’ about testing capacity early on, says Sage member
The UK’s testing capacity was “nowhere near enough” to cope with the surge in cases in March and April, MPs have been told.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and Sage adviser, told Jeremy Hunt that he “regrets Sage was not more blunt” with ministers about the need to ramp up testing early on. There was “not enough urgency” during the eight weeks in January and February, he said.
The “structures were in place, the challenge was ramping it up to a level that was needed”.
But there was “no surge capacity in the system”, he said noting the allowance of 1,000 tests a week was “nowhere near enough to cope with growing epidemic which was doubling every two-to-three days”.
The “inevitable” choice was made to focus that on patients and healthcare workers rather than the community.
However “it was a mistake” not to have ramped up testing early on, he added.
Chancellor pledges to get public finances on ‘sustainable footing’ as borrowing reaches record high
Government borrowing rocketed to a record £127.9 billion in the first quarter of the financial year due to soaring spending at the height of the coronavirus crisis, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that borrowing in the first three months of the financial year was more than double the £55.4 billion seen in the whole of 2019-20 as the UK spent heavily on emergency support measures during the lockdown.
It came after June’s public sector net borrowing, excluding state-owned banks, rose five-fold year on year to £35.5 billion – £28.3 billion higher than a year earlier and the third highest for any month on record.
Rishi Sunak said: “It’s clear that coronavirus has had a significant impact on our public finances, but we know without our response things would have been far worse. The best approach to ensure our public finances are sustainable in the medium-term is to minimise the economic scarring caused by the pandemic.
The Chancellor added: “I am also clear that, over the medium-term, we must, and we will, put our public finances back on a sustainable footing.”
People made up their own minds on Brexit vote, says Labour’s Lisa Nandy
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary has said she believes “people made their own minds up” during the Brexit referendum, ahead of the phblication of a long-awaited report into Russian influence in British democracy.
Lisa Nandy told Sky News that while she did not know the contents of the report, “my feeling about the referendum is that people made their own minds up and the test facing our country is now is to pull together to get a good deal.”
She added: “They voted the way they want to vote on both the Remain and Leave side.”
However there had been “a pattern of behaviour from the Putin administration, not just in the UK but across Europe and in America as well”.
She added: “I’m not sure I need to the Russia report to know we have got a problem – I think we need to take a more coherent and consistent approach in Government.”
China on the agenda with Pompeo as Beijing warns of ‘consequences’ over Hong Kong
It’s not only Russia that the UK Government has an eye on today – China will be top of the agenda during some key meetings between ministers, backbenchers and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today.
Yesterday Beijing warned that Britain will “bear the consequences” of suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the new security law.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London said: “The UK side has gone even further down the wrong road in disregard of China’s solemn position and repeated representations... The UK will bear the consequences if it insists on going down the wrong road.”
Mr Pompeo, a China hawk who called on the UK to block Huawei from its 5G network, arrived in London yesterday evening, wearing a face mask decorated with the stars and stripes of the US flag.
Russia report: The story so far
The report into Russian meddling in British democracy was completed months ago by the Intelligence and Security Committee when chaired by former attorney general Dominic Grieve.
It is based on secret material from Britain’s intelligence agencies and is expected to outline the threat Russia poses to the UK as well as efforts to counter it.
It was due to be published last autumn, but was delayed because of the General Election. Boris Johnson then delayed further by waiting until last week to convene the committee – although efforts to install Chris Grayling as chair were undermined by Julian Lewis, who snatched the role from the former transport secretary by securing the votes of opposition MPs.
The report does not include the 2019 election – although Dominic Raab has said he is “almost certain” that “Russian actors” had tried to influence the result by “amplifying” stolen Government papers online.
Britain, the US and Canada have also claimed Russian intelligence-linked hackers tried to steal details of research into coronavirus vaccines. That “ongoing incident” is also not covered.
But the 2017 election is, as is the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2014 independence referendum. You can read more about what we know so far here.
World has entered a new Cold War, claims Defence Committee chair
The world has “entered a new Cold War”, Tobias Ellwood has claimed – and China is “currently winning that battle”.
The chair of the Defence Select Committe said the new tactics include “ensnaring” states in debt, controlling data and “paralysing” international organisations like the UN.
He noted that China used “cyber weapons to hit society directly as every aspect of our lives online”, saying: “We need a full foreign policy strategic reset.”
Russian meddling because of ‘absence of determination from West’, says Tobias Ellwood
The chair of the Defence Committee has said there has been “an absence of determination from the West” to deal with threats to democracy, urging the US to “recognise its duties as that superpower”.
Tobias Ellwood told Sky News the Intelligence and Security Committee had a very important job to do “in the new modern battlefield in play”, which involved “doing things which are actually going to cause a response short of a military retaliation”.
He added: “We have got to get used to this”
Speaking ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr Ellwood said: “The US is for the moment the world superpower. But there has been an absence of determination from the West [to deal with these problems.
“We need the US to recognise its duties as that superpower.”
He also said that if the US does not believe the UN, WHO or WTO are working “let’s fix them rather than walk away from them”.
Confusion continues as minister says face masks are compulsory in Pret
Kit Malthouse will be wearing a face mask when he goes into Pret, he has told Sky News.
Asked if he thought it would be mandatory from Friday, the policing minister said: “It will be compulsory to go into a retail environment to wear one, yes.”
But when it was pointed out to him that others including Downing Street and Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, had said it wasn’t, Mr Malthouse appeared shocked, saying: “Oh OK, you have your gotcha moment there.”
He said he would go “back to base” to “clarify the message”, although urging “common sense”.
Yesterday Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said it was not compulsory – despite Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, saying it was last week.
Minister has ‘faith’ that British voters weren’t swayed by Russian meddling
Kit Malthouse has said he does not believe voters were swayed by Russian meddling in recent votes, telling Sky he has “more faith in the British people and their ability to make a good decision”.
He declined to comment on whether the report – which is expected to suggest there was interference in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – would preclude a second vote, but stressed that voters had made good decisions “in the last election and referendum before”.
The policing minister noted the “wider implications of foreign actors in the UK is something that has been enabled by internet and we have to be very mindful of cyber security, and national security”.
He added: “Dominic and the PM are very focused on it,”
But as for the report, which is due out at 10:30am, Mr Malthouse urged for time to “digest it and then the conjecture about what [Russian] purposes might be can begin”
Chief nurse not ‘restricted’, says minister
Kit Malthouse denied that chief nursing officer Ruth May had been silenced by Number 10.
She was dropped from a Downing Street press conference in the wake of the Dominic Cummings row after saying that lockdown rules should apply to all.
The Policing minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The Prime Minister and ministers are responsible for the decisions that have been taken and the science is meant to inform their decisions.
“Who or who doesn’t appear at a podium at a particular press conference seems to me less relevant than this hard-working and dedicated public servant can speak when she wishes and she has done, obviously, before and since.
“I don’t think there’s any intention to restrict that.”
‘Surprising’ if Russians didn’t meddle in Brexit vote, says former intelligence committee chair
A former chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee has said it would be “surprising” if Russians had meddled in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 and not the Brexit vote in 2016.
Baroness Neville-Jones, who served as security minister under David Cameron before becoming a Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security, told Sky News: “I am not sure I believe it.
“I think it’s unlikely that somehow one (election) is clean and the other interfered with.”
She added that she expected it would be “both, frankly”, noting the objective of Russian policy was “to weaken democracy and weaken the alliances between democracies”.
“Anything that increases the chances of Brexit going the way it is… it would be surprising if they weren’t interested in that.”
Minister defends Tory donations from Russian oligarchs
A minister has defended the six-figure donations received by the Conservative party from Russian oligarchs, ahead of the publication of the long-awaited report into Russian meddling in British democracy.
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, declined to comment on specific allegations within the report, which is due out at 10:30am this morning, saying he had not read it yet.
He told BBC Breakfast all donations were received “in accordance with the law”, saying the Conservative party did not “discriminate on the basis of race”.
He added: “All donations are declared publicly for people to examine and see for themselves… There are lots of people who donate to political parties of all colours who have a background outside the UK.”
Mr Malthouse also hit back at the questions, saying: “I am not sure what you are insinuating.”
However Labour’s Lisa Nandy told Sky News that “cleaning up big money in politics is something that concerns all of us”.
Russia tried to ‘influence’ 2014 Scottish independence referendum – but not Brexit
Russia tried to “influence” the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum but not the Brexit vote, a long-awaited report into Moscow’s alleged meddling in British politics will reveal on Tuesday.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee will describe the Kremlin’s attempt to divide the United Kingdom in 2014 as “the first post-Soviet interference in a Western democratic election”, The Telegraph has learnt.
However, the report concludes that there is no direct evidence of Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The findings of the 50-page report, which followed an 18-month parliamentary inquiry, will pile pressure on Boris Johnson to take a tougher line with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
It is also likely to lead to fresh calls in Westminster for there not to be a second Scottish independence referendum.