Jul 21, 2020 - World

U.K. government ignored Russian interference for years, report finds

Putin and Boris Johnson

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

The U.K. government has ignored Russian campaigns to interfere in its democratic system for years, including during the contentious 2014 Scottish independence referendum and 2016 Brexit referendum, according to a long-delayed report released by Parliament on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The damaging report did not conclude whether the Russian influence campaigns were successful, but found that the U.K. government failed to be alert or avoided looking for evidence that the Kremlin was seeking to attack its democracy.

The backstory: This report was anticipated primarily for what it would say about Russia’s interference in the 2016 EU referendum, the aftershocks of which led to Brexit and brought Prime Minister Boris Johnson to power. The report does not take a position on whether Russia influenced the result, though it does note efforts to amplify pro-Brexit or anti-EU messages.

  • It is more definitive on the failures of the British government to respond to long-running Russian interference in British democracy, a skittishness they contend effectively enabled this "new normal."
  • A succession of British governments has been accused of turning a blind eye to Russia’s actions on its soil — from attacks on Russian exiles, to money laundering through London’s property market and now to Brexit and the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
  • The report was originally seen and approved by the U.K. government in 2019, but Johnson refused to release it ahead of last year's election. The seven-month delay intensified allegations by Johnson's opponents that he was seeking to bury evidence of Russian interference that had benefited his Conservative Party.

What they're saying: “The government here has let us down,” said Kevan Jones, a Labour member of Parliament who serves on the intelligence committee that released the report. “The outrage isn’t if there is interference, the outrage is no one wanted to know if there was interference."

  • Downing Street denied the claim that it had "badly underestimated" the threat from Russia, while the Kremlin dismissed the report as "Russophobia," according to the BBC.

Read the report via DocumentCloud.

Go deeper