Government won't release report on Russian interference - and could face legal action

19 November 2019, 18:21 | Updated: 19 November 2019, 20:02

The government has rejected a legal request to release a parliamentary report on hostile Russian action in the UK, paving the way for a court battle ahead of election day.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism had asked Boris Johnson to allow the document, compiled by the intelligence and security committee (ISC), to be published by 4pm.

James Ball, the news organisation's global editor, told Sky News this request had been turned down.

"We've had a response from Number 10 rejecting our formal request to release the report," he said in a written message.

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"Our lawyers are urgently reviewing this letter and our next steps. We believe the publication of the report is a matter of the highest public interest and hope to have a further update very soon."

A next step is likely to involve the launch of legal action in the High Court to try to overturn Downing Street's refusal to clear the report for publication before parliament was dissolved earlier this month.

Such a move could happen as early as this week.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised more than £42,000 through a crowdfunder for legal costs.

Dominic Grieve, a former Tory attorney general who chaired the ISC, has said his committee submitted its 50-page report to the prime minister's office on 17 October.

He said it typically takes about 10 days for an ISC report to be given the green light for publication. But that did not happen.

Mr Grieve, now and independent MP and critic of Mr Johnson, has spoken out in frustration at the failure of the prime minister to allow the report to the released.

The senior MP has told Sky News that he could see no valid reason for the government's refusal to approve the release of the findings, which cover the threat posed by the Kremlin to British elections.

He said it would have provided valuable information to the public on the Russia threat ahead of the general election, at a time of concern about Moscow's ability to interfere with democratic processes in countries such as in the US.

MI6, MI5 and GCHQ have already cleared the 50-page file as safe to publish.