Priti Patel vows new laws against foreign spying amid Russia Report concern

24 July 2020, 07:50

The Home Secretary is proposing strict new laws
The Home Secretary is proposing strict new laws. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Priti Patel will propose new laws preventing foreign interference in British life following the storm over the Russia Report.

The Home Secretary has responded to a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) which warned that successive governments "welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms" and allowed them to forge "connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures".

The Minister told the Daily Express newspaper her department is working on a Bill to protect the country and bring tougher sanctions against spies and their states.

She said: "Security is what we are about - protecting our people, our country, our state."

The Cabinet Minister said: “When it comes to our adversaries we are much stronger than we were four or five years ago."

She said" “But also in terms of sanctions against them, very clear powers targeted against them but also their governments and their countries too because clearly this is all linked."

The move has been welcomed by a former head of international terrorism intelligence at the Cabinet Office who said the UK's guard against Moscow "has increasingly dropped".

Colonel Richard Kemp wrote in the Express: "Vitally important now are robust measures not only to defend against Russian aggression but to allow our security services to take the offensive against their depredations."

The interview comes days after the ISC released a long-awaited report which argued the UK had "underestimated" the threat posed by Moscow.

Ms Patel said the report was out-of-date and Britain had since improved its position.

"When it comes to our adversaries, we are much stronger than we were. I think it is really important for your readers to know that.

As we reported yesterday, the UK accused Russia of launching a projectile "with the characteristics of a weapon" during a satellite test, warning that it could "threaten the peaceful use of space".

It marked the first time the Ministry of Defence has publically called out Russian activity of this sort.

The US also condemned the action, describing the event as a test of an anti-satellite weapon.

Meanwhile, Tory donor Alexander Temerko insisted Russian-linked businessmen have "zero" influence on British politics.

Mr Temerko, who has donated more than £1 million to the Tories, said his wealth gave him influence in the City but not Westminster.

Mr Temerko, who has an energy business, was born in the former Soviet Union but is now a British citizen.

Asked about the influence wielded by Russian-linked individuals like him in the capital - dubbed "Londongrad" in the ISC report - Mr Temerko said: "Influence where? In the City, it is quite significant - in energy sector, yes quite significant but on a political level, zero."

In an ITV News interview, he denied buying influence with his political donations, saying that to discuss his company with Government officials would be "very inappropriate behaviour" and "impossible".

Mr Temerko said he was "absolutely" an enemy of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the system for accepting donations.

He said: "I'm sorry, but we have a law a rule in our party that we don't take foreign donations.

"But, what I don't like to see is people automatically assuming everybody who is associated with some country or other is in someway untouchable - we are not a racist country.

"We are a generous, welcoming, international, outgoing country.

"That's the way we should be.

"Donations from foreigners are illegal and they should be handed back, but that I don't think is what we're talking about here."

The Times reported that 14 Cabinet ministers and members of the ISC had taken money from figures linked to Russia.

It listed Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis as having personally received £25,000 from Lubov Chernukhin, a banker and the wife of Mr Putin's former deputy finance minister, and £23,000 from Mr Temerko.

Other Cabinet ministers said to have accepted money, either personally or to their constituency branch, from the two Russia-linked individuals include Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.