2 November 2019
A report on Russian meddling in British democracy by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is being suppressed by the Johnson government. It was completed in March, vetted by the intelligence community, and on 17 October submitted for final clearance within 10 working days to non-prime minister Boris Johnson. That deadline passed with no sign of the report, and if it is not released by next Tuesday, when Parliament is suspended because of the impending general election, it will not be seen by the public before that climactic event. It is obvious that it is being suppressed for political reasons.
It has long been suspected that Russia secretly used money and cyber warfare to support the Leave campaign in the June 2016 Brexit referendum because its national interest required disruption of the EU, and meddled in the British general election in 2017 as well. Even slender evidence provided by the ISC that Russian interference assisted the narrow victory of the Leave campaign, which was headed by Boris Johnson, would obviously weaken the non-prime minister’s mantra that Brexit is ‘the will of the people’, in the same way that investigations into Russian interference in the US presidential election in 2016 have questioned the democratic legitimacy of Donald Trump. Johnson, therefore, is probably sitting on the ISC report chiefly because its publication before the general election would prove damaging to his Brexit-dominated campaign. But it is unlikely that this is the full story. The report’s appearance might also – at least indirectly – harm Donald Trump, whose efforts to blacken the conclusions of the US intelligence community and the Mueller Report on Russian election meddling have recently gone into a higher gear and on whose goodwill Johnson is so dependent for a post-Brexit trade deal. And on top of this the ISC’s chair is Dominic Grieve, a man of legendary integrity and heroic stature in the Remain camp, who has publicly called Johnson a charlatan and was expelled by him from the Conservative Party. The redoubtable Grieve has gone public with his anger at the treatment of his report and it will be interesting to see if it sees the light of day before next Tuesday. Don’t hold your breath.
PS, Monday 4 November: The government, as feared, has just announced that it will not be releasing the report in time for it to be seen by the public before the General Election on 12 December.
PPS, Tuesday 5 November: The government was yesterday roundly attacked in the House of Lords for its outrageous attitude in this affair. Defending it was only the Conservative deputy leader of the house, Earl Howe, who claimed (falsely) that the government was only following ‘the standard process’ and that it needed more time to ‘respond’. As Lord Ricketts, a former permanent under-secretary at the FCO pointed out: ‘When Ministers say that they need time to respond, they miss the point that what is being asked for is publication of the report; the response can take its time. There is a clear public interest in the national security implications of Russia’s adversarial conduct.’ Other than Howe, not a single peer spoke in the government’s defence. The Hansard transcript of this short debate can be read here.