UK politicians have been slow to respond to Russia's changing motives, says ex-GCHQ chief

21 July 2020, 18:51

By Seán Hickey

A former head of the UK's intelligence service suggested the Russia report shows that British politicians have been slow to act on the threat Russia has posed to the country.

One of the omissions of the report was whether or not there was interference by Russia in the Brexit referendum, and Eddie wanted to know why. He asked Sir Francis Richards, who was Head of GCHQ from 1998 to 2003.

"Why wouldn't a British government if it was suspicious of Russian interference during the Brexit referendum or any other time, want to get to the bottom of it, as the American government and American intelligence agencies clearly wanted to after 2016," he asked Sir Francis.

"I really don't know," The former GCHQ chief admitted.

"They should want to know, I don't think they're properly organised to ask the question I have to say."

Eddie was shocked by Sir Francis' suggestion.

Sir Francis went on to state that there has been excellent work done across the UK's intelligence and political institutions, but "unless the chain of command at the top keeps pace with that and has a clear line of responsibility, what is excellent cooperation at the working level can turn into muddle at the top and that is what seems to be happening here."

The Russia Report showed that some politicians have had close ties with Russian lobbyists
The Russia Report showed that some politicians have had close ties with Russian lobbyists. Picture: PA

Eddie put forward that the report shows that "some people who are at or near the top are maybe subject to undue Russian influence and don't want to investigate Russia," and wanted to know what Sir Francis thought of that. "I very much hope that is not true," he quickly responded.

He admitted that "there are a lot of people who ought to know better that have been accepting favours from the Russian government," during a time that Russia can't be trusted.

The ex-GCHQ chief said that it is in the last five to ten years that Russia took a sinister turn in its foreign policies and "the standards of our parliamentarians has not quite kept pace with that."

Eddie wondered if Sir Francis thought "some of our parliamentarians are in Russian pockets," and he replied that "it is a matter of record that there are people in the House of Lords who do have connections with Russian lobbies.

"I'm not saying these people are serving Russian interests at the expense of British ones, I'm saying the report identifies the fact that there are a lot of people that have some divided loyalties on some issues they really ought to be worried about."

Sir Francis concluded that the public ought to demand that someone takes action "to work out what the problem is and do something about it."