Earlier this year, David Blackman gave an update on the prospects for the Russia Report, the publication of which Boris Johnson had been seeking to suppress. Yesterday, thanks in no small part to an individual act of rebellion by Conservative MP, Julian Lewis, it finally saw the light of day. And it was devastating.
David now follows up on his earlier article with this assessment.
I could introduce myself as an old ‘Labour European’ [class of 1961]. But I am here rather as an EM member since the 1960s, someone who has followed Russian affairs since the late 1950s, and spent 6 years at the European Parliament [1990-96] dealing with relations with Central and Eastern Europe. This included many visits to Russia, and even a week in the Duma as a consultant on ‘multi-party democracy’ [!]
The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s Report, published on 21 July, may be a disappointment to those ‘pro-Europeans’ who hoped for clearer evidence of Russian interference in the EU referendum. Clearly the intelligence agencies backed away from investigating something so sensitive in internal UK politics [the ‘hot potato’], and one can understand that.
But the government didn’t want this subject pursued because of its likely political effect.
We must support the ISC proposal [p.14] that the UK intelligence community produce an assessment of potential Russian interference in that referendum, with an unclassified summary, similar to the rapidly-produced US assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
To look at the ISC report as a whole: we should also support its thorough assessment of Russia: tough but realistic. We must be hard-headed in our policy on relations with Russia – and with China, which I note is a subject on the work programme of the ISC, now that it can finally start work again.
Obviously there is plenty of party-political capital to be made out of the evidence for Russian oligarchs using their illicit finance to influence companies and political figures through the ‘London laundromat’. This will no doubt take place in the House of Commons – and I hope, the Lords. The government’s ‘prosperity agenda’ has serious implications for our national security, as this report makes clear.
[As a slight aside, under the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, Lords, unlike MPs, do not have to register payments for any employment outside the House, above a nominal sum. This needs to be changed and is dealt with in paragraph 54 of the report.]
I think the ISC report is very fair in its assessment of HMG taking its eye off the ball – and not just under this government; and we should support refocussing on the old threat from Russia and the new threat from China.
The new Chairman of the ISC is Julian Lewis, who has considerable experience of defence and security matters; he stood against No. 10’s candidate, Chris Grayling, who has none, and was elected with the support of the opposition members of the new committee. This caused fury in No. 10, and Lewis was expelled from the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
Ironically, when HMG last week issued a new report on Russian interference in the 2019 general election [thought to have been intended as a distraction from the ISC Russia Report], it had to brief the new Chairman of the ISC – Julian Lewis!
The story will continue.
For those wanting a detailed and up-to-date account, I recommend Shadow State by Guardian correspondent Luke Harding.