According to openDemocracy, the Met has already passed a file of criminal evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to Boris Johnson’s and Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave campaign in 2016. Johnson has risked a collapse of confidence in his integrity and suitability to govern as the election campaign progresses. The stench of electoral manipulation and Russian meddling will only grow stronger.
Downing Street’s unexplained refusal to publish the intelligence and security committee (ISC) report on Russian interference in UK politics is not only an outrageous denial of information that voters need to make sound electoral decisions, but has chilling implications for our democracy after the election (PM accused of cover-up over report on Russian meddling in UK politics, 5 November). If the prime minister gets away with being this autocratic now, how much more so will an elected Johnson government become after it?
• Your piece (Downing Street accused of Russia report cover-up, 1 November) suggested the ISC report features claims that Russia launched a major influence operation in 2016 in support of Brexit. Irrespective of the report’s claims, it is already well-established that such an influence operation took place.
In February the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport’s report into disinformation and fake news described how Kremlin-aligned media published significant numbers of unique articles about the EU referendum. It referred, for example, to research by the campaigning organisation 89up, which analysed the most shared of the articles and identified 261 with a clear anti-EU bias.
The two main outlets were Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik (a news agency, website platform and radio broadcast service established by the Russian government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya), with video produced by Ruptly.271 (a video news agency owned by RT). The articles that went most viral had the heaviest anti-EU bias.
The social reach of these anti-EU articles was 134m potential impressions, in comparison with a total reach of just 33m and 11m impressions for all content shared from the Vote Leave and Leave.EU websites respectively. The cost for a comparable paid social media campaign would be millions of pounds.
Furthermore, data released by Twitter last year revealed that, on the day of the Brexit vote, an “army” of Russian trolls sent thousands of messages with the hashtag #ReasonsToLeaveEU. At one stage 3,800 fake accounts tweeted out 1,102 posts using the hashtag. In total, data from Twitter showed Russian and Iranian internet trolls sent more than 10m tweets around the time of the referendum in an effort to spread disinformation.
Wherever the latest report is, the threat posed by Russia to the UK is real, alive and well, and will no doubt be going up a gear in the coming weeks.
• How predictable that a government which has already repeatedly shown its contempt for any attempt to scrutinise its actions should now refuse to publish the intelligence and security committee report into alleged Kremlin involvement in the referendum campaign.
It has direct relevance to the current election; the government’s record suggests this is precisely why it wants to keep the report under wraps. The fact that eminent crossbenchers in the Lords argued for immediate publication is highly persuasive.
In denying the public access to this material at the time it is most needed, Downing Street may well find that the electorate has become infected by the new cynicism it has fostered and draws its own conclusions.
• Re the ISC report on Russian interference in British politics, where is the modern-day Katharine Gun when you need her?
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
• The government’s refusal to release the ISC’s report into Russian activity against the UK is only one example of the impact of government delay on the work of this committee.
The ISC was reconstituted as a parliamentary committee in 2013, but in many respects remains subject to government control. This is not the first time the committee has expressed concern about the time taken by government to review its reports. It took more than four months to review the committee’s report on lethal drone strikes, which was sent back to the committee just six days before the 2017 general election, with the result that the committee was forced to accept all of the government’s proposed redactions in order to ensure the report was published before the election. Similarly, despite a commitment to respond to ISC reports within 60 days of publication, the government has routinely missed this target, for example, taking five months to respond to the committee’s report on detainee mistreatment and rendition.
There have also been delays in appointing the ISC. Although it is now appointed by parliament, members must first be nominated by the government. Delays in this process have meant that the ISC was one of the last parliamentary committees to be appointed following the 2015 and 2017 general elections, leaving the UK without an intelligence oversight committee for a total of 12 months.
It is time that control over the operation of this important committee was taken out of the hands of the government and placed firmly in the hands of the committee and parliament where it belongs.
Dr Andrew Defty
Associate professor of politics, University of Lincoln