Russian Influence in U.K. Politics 'Is the New Normal,' Report Reveals

The long-awaited "Russia report" into the threat the country poses to U.K. politics has been released.

Allegations were made that Russia interfered in British elections in 2019, but this report was due to be released before that election took place. The Kremlin has denied those accusations, along with questions about any interference in the Brexit referendum in 2016 and a previous general election in 2017.

But the report said the U.K. is one of Russia's top intelligence targets in the West.

The report said that it was "difficult if not impossible to prove" that Russia impacted the results of the election but that "no-one in government knew if Russia interfered... because they did not want to know."

The committee said that ministers in government "actively avoided" asking questions about Russian interference because of what they might find out.

The report did not cover the alleged interference with the 2019 election as it was completed before but the committee told Newsweek that it "will seek further inquiries into this, into the intelligence that would stand this up. At this point we would be able to answer the question much more clearly."

Labour MP Kevan Jones, a member of the committee, said they have not seen any classified information about alleged involvement in the general election 2019.

"We will assess it once we get the intelligence," he said.

The report went on to say that Russian influence in UK politics "is the new normal" and more interference was to be expected.

"Successive governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London 'laundromat', and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures," the report said.

"This has led to a growth industry of 'enablers' including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents who are—wittingly or unwittingly—de facto agents of the Russian state.

"It clearly demonstrates the inherent tension between the government's prosperity agenda and the need to protect national security. While we cannot now shut the stable door, greater powers and transparency are needed urgently."

The delays to the release of the report were criticized, being called "utterly reprehensible" by MPs, because some said that it would highlight the ruling Conservative Party's links to Russian oligarchs.

Putin
Russian interference with U.K. politics is still not fully known Getty

"It suits Russia if there's disunity in the West," Stewart Hosie, of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said in a press conference.

He said that he was "shocked" at the lack of scrutiny on the level of interference in U.K. politics by Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has rejected the findings: "Russia has never interfered in electoral processes in any country," he said in a statement.

The U.K. government itself has said it was "almost certain" that Russians tried to interfere in the 2019 UK general election through misinformation and documents acquired illegally.

Professor Matthew Flinders, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, said: "In 55 pages [of the report] that include 175 redactions, the only thing this report clarifies is that nobody seems to know what Russia might or might not have done.

"'We don't know what we don't know because no one has bothered to ask' might be a succinct summary of the report, which is not the fault of the Intelligence and Security Committee as much as it seems to be an almost complete vacuum at the heart of Whitehall and Westminster.

"The big issue that is showcased in this report is the complete confusion of the accountability and oversight structures in relation to cyber-security. No one minister carries the can for the topic and this might explain how and why what the ISC calls 'a hot potato' appears to have fallen between the cracks."

Before the report was released, there was the allegation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had delayed the report because it contained evidence of wrongdoing by his ruling Conservative party.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael, said: "Given the prime minister has for nine months sat on the intelligence committee report into Russian interference of our democracy, his decision to delay nominations to the committee raises serious ethical questions.

"This unprecedented underhand behavior is utterly reprehensible. It leaves the public in little doubt that Boris Johnson is avoiding the truth about the Tory party's funding connections to Russian oligarchs."

The Conservative government denied the claim it "badly underestimated" the threat from Russia and U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the response will be strong if required:

"We've been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK & our allies," Raab tweeted.

"We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy & our values from such Hostile State Activity."

The U.K. government has been contacted for further comment.