Russian actors 'attempted to interfere' in 2019 general election, Dominic Raab says

16 July 2020, 13:19

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there was “no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the general election”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there was “no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the general election”. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Russian actors attempted to interfere in the 2019 general election by leaking sensitive documents online, Dominic Raab has said.

Sensitive documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were disseminated via Reddit before last year’s November election.

They were highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign to back his claims that the Conservatives were preparing to "sell off" the NHS.

But the Foreign Secretary said there was “no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the general election.”

In a written statement to parliament, Mr Raab said: "On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents.

"Sensitive government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 general election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit.

"When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the general election.

"Whilst there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the general election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable.

"It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections."

After Labour highlighted the documents at a press conference in November, Reddit - an online discussion site - said that its own investigation had linked the appearance of the documents to a previous Russian disinformation campaign.

The papers were believed to have appeared online some months earlier but attracted little attention until they were picked up by the Labour campaign.

Mr Raab said that there was an "ongoing criminal investigation" into how the documents were obtained.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed Dominic Raab's "ambiguous" and "confusing" statement.

She said the UK had admitted there was "no evidence of full-scale interference" by Russia.

"However they claim that any attempts of such interference are unacceptable and they also voiced some hints on certain investigations, criminal investigation, that allegedly is under way.

"At this juncture it is premature to make any statements on our behalf, but let me say this: this statement is so ambiguous and so confusing that it is unclear what they are trying to say."

The Russian Embassy in London warned that that "any unfriendly actions" will "not be left without a proper and adequate response".

The embassy said Moscow "has not and will never interfere in the internal affairs" of the UK and denied targeting efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

"We have also taken note of the Foreign Secretary's suggestion that the UK Government reserves the right to respond with appropriate measures in the future," a statement said.

"In this regard, we would like to state once again that any unfriendly actions against Russia will not be left without a proper and adequate response."

His statement follows the formation of the new parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

At it first meeting, the ISC agreed that it would publish a long-awaited report into Russian interference in UK politics drawn up by its predecessor committee before the last election before Parliament breaks next week for the summer.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman dismissed suggestions that the timing of Mr Raab's statement was intended to pre-empt that report as "nonsense".

A Labour spokesman said: "We condemn any attempt by Russia, or any foreign power, to interfere in our country's democratic processes.

"Labour stands ready to work cross-party to protect our nation's security. That includes in our response to the publication of the long-awaited report by the Intelligence Security Committee on the Russian threat to the UK."

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