Claims No 10 'sitting on' Russian interference report

Mark Urban
Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight
@MarkUrban01on Twitter

  • Published
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during annual news conference in Moscow, RussiaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
President Vladimir Putin has denied claims of Russian interference

There is disquiet in Parliament that a sensitive report on Russian covert actions against the UK, including allegations of electoral interference, is being sat on by No 10.

The report includes evidence from UK intelligence services concerning Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general election.

The document, compiled by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, was referred to the Prime Minister's office on 17 October but, unless it is cleared for publication by the beginning of next week, it will not be released before the UK goes to the polls on 12 December.

"There are a number of administrative stages/processes which reports such as this - which often contain sensitive information - have to go through before they are published", a No 10 spokesman told me, adding, "this usually takes several weeks to complete".

However if previous practice has been followed, the draft report will have been vetted by the intelligence agencies before it was referred to Downing Street.

People familiar with the committee's workings say that 10 days should have been adequate for this, and that its chair, Dominic Grieve, had been hoping to publish the report on 28 October.

The committee heard evidence from UK intelligence agencies such as GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

Previous disclosures would suggest that these Russian activities did not match the scale of those directed against the 2016 US presidential election, and even in that case, there is considerable debate about how far people were actually influenced by these actions.

However the sense that No 10 might be uncomfortable with the emergence of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report prior to the election may prove more significant than the evidence it actually contains.

"Parliament and the public ought to have and must have access to this report in the light of the forthcoming election and it's really unacceptable for the prime minister to sit on it", Mr Grieve told the House of Commons. He brushed aside explanations for the delay saying: "It's already been very carefully looked at by the Cabinet Office".

While opposition MPs may smell a cover-up, Downing Street is angry with Mr Grieve for his intervention.

It is not believed that the draft report had, as of 31 October, reached Boris Johnson's desk, and among his officials there are accusations that the committee chair is using the report to continue his political battle against the prime minister.

Mr Grieve has evidently sought to ramp up the pressure prior to the dissolution of Parliament on 5 November, and Downing Street has not ruled out releasing the report before then.

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