1 March 2019

It has long been suspected that Vladimir Putin’s government, in part via the agency of the Russian Embassy in London, gave covert support to the campaign that secured the narrow victory for the Brexiters in the June 2016 referendum in the UK. This was clearly in its interests because it was always apparent that such a triumph would not only politically distract and economically weaken one of its most resolute Western opponents but also stir up trouble on Ireland’s frontier with the United Kingdom and encourage separatism in Scotland, where pro-EU sentiment is strong. But Mrs May’s Conservative Party government and its powerful supporters in the news media, which are stubbornly determined to drag Britain out of the EU in the face of concerted opposition from both business and trade union organizations, have refused even to notice – let alone investigate – the evidence strongly suggesting Russian interference. And the reason is obvious: confirming this would seriously weaken the legitimacy of the referendum result. A few eloquent voices have raised the alarm on the Opposition benches in Parliament, and the very worthy House of Commons Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has added its support in its Final Report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’ (para. 273). In consequence, the National Crime Agency has accepted an investigative referral to it from the Electoral Commission. But this agency is over-stretched and its remit limited. Britain needs its equivalent of the Mueller inquiry into Trump’s ‘collusion’ with Russia during the US presidential election campaign that overlapped with the Brexit campaign in 2016. This is why, having just stumbled on it, I have signed a petition urging this, which can be found on the UK Government and Parliament ‘Petitions’ website here. It is already not far short of 10,000 signatures, at which point the government is obliged to respond to it; at 100,000 signatures it is required to consider it for a debate in parliament. The petition, which was created by Neil Rosser, is open until 11 August 2019 and can be signed by any British citizen or UK resident. Please sign now and encourage others to do likewise!
Essential viewing from Chanel 4 News, 5 March 2019: The Banks Files: How Brexit ‘bad boy’ Arron Banks was eyeing a massive Russian gold deal. 

Pathetic Government Response: This petition passed the 10,000 signatures watershed some weeks ago (as at 4 April 2019 it has 14,097) and the Cabinet Office, on behalf of the British government, predictably rejected it. The defence of its position is pathetic: disjointed, repetitive, and stuffed with red herrings – all typical symptoms of the nervous breakdown brought on Whitehall by the Brexit fiasco and the semi-lunatic bunker mentality now exhibited by 10 Downing Street. Three arguments are offered. First, in line with what it said in its response to the DCMS Committee’s Interim Report in July 2018, it says that the government ‘has not seen evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes’,  repeating this mantra in the next line. But how can you see if you don’t look? In any case, why should interference only be of concern if it is successful? Should we refuse to investigate a house break-in because the burglar failed to find anything worth stealing? What is unsuccessful today might be successful tomorrow; the more so if it is not exposed and lessons are not learned. In 2018 the DCMS Committee took quite sufficient evidence of ‘a co-ordinated, long-standing campaign by the Russian Government to influence UK elections and referenda’ (p. 43) to warrant a full public inquiry. Second, the Cabinet Office response rehearses the steps taken by government ‘to ensure that there is a coordinated structure across all relevant UK authorities to defend against hostile foreign interference in British politics from any state’, as urged by the DCMS committee in its Interim Report (p. 52). But – while in principle a useful step – this obviously post-dated the 2016 referendum campaign and is in consequence little more than another attempt to throw dust in the public’s eyes. Third, its response having silently glided into admitting that interference as such is unacceptable (whether successful or not), and after trailing yet another red herring about the Security Services being too ‘independent’ to be tasked by ministers, the Cabinet Office claims that an independent inquiry into the 2016 referendum campaign is unnecessary because independent Russia-connected investigations, courtesy of the Electoral Commission and the National Crime Agency, are already underway. But as the DCMS Committee has pointed out, while these bodies are doing valuable work, they can only investigate individuals. The response of the Cabinet Office to this petition has done nothing to remove the suspicion that the May government will not countenance a public inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 referendum because of its fear that it would bring into question the legitimacy of the result, not to mention its continuous preoccupation with its lamentable consequences.