Shelagh Fogarty challenges Tory MP on PM "side stepping" calls to investigate Brexit result

22 July 2020, 15:03

By Fiona Jones

Shelagh Fogarty challenged Tory MP on the Prime Minister "side stepping" calls to investigate Russian influence on the EU referendum result during PMQs.

MP for Laura Farris reflected on the "unprecedented" last six months and branded the Government's performance "really really impressive", particularly Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and the Prime Minister.

"There has been a really impressive concerted effort and it has definitely been the kind of emergency leadership that I haven't really seen in my life time," she said.

Shelagh then questioned Ms Farris on Boris Johnson's performance in today's PMQs, asking her if it was right for him to "sidestep a direct question" on whether the Government will investigate Russian influence in the Brexit result.

She said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was "just saying that we should make sure Russia isn't meddling in our elections."

Ms Farris replied, "I thought the Prime Minister had a fairly straight answer on that and the two things he referred to were the espionage act and I think that is a recognition that the official secrets act which had been our only statutory tool for dealing with the risk posed by Russian foreign actors needs to be made more robust."

Shelagh Fogarty challenges Tory MP on PM "side stepping" calls to investigate Brexit result
Shelagh Fogarty challenges Tory MP on PM "side stepping" calls to investigate Brexit result. Picture: LBC/PA

She said the Government was "focusing very hard" on ways to tackle Russian influence.

She continued: "The Magnitsky Act...was a really important announcement by the Foreign Secretary during the last couple of weeks responding to all the work done by Bill Browder and others about the way that we as a democratic state respond to significant human rights abuses even by very significant other countries like Russia."

"The idea that the Government has been on the back foot or hasn't been already thinking in a very direct and proactive way about the threats that we face is not right," Ms Farris said.

Shelagh countered that the Russia Report stated the reason we can't tell you whether Russia interfered with the EU or Scottish independence referendums is that "nobody with the power to look is looking."

"Not to change the results, just to know," Shelagh said.

Ms Farris responded, "I think you're quite right to say that areas in which there has not perhaps been enough focus...but I think that for example the involvement of Russia in potentially distorting information in the way it conducts itself on social media are areas that we are now vastly becoming aware of and beginning to take action on."

She said Parliament would be looking at the role social media companies themselves play in online disinformation.