'Staggering' Russia report reveals why government batted off Brexit interference claims

21 July 2020, 12:11 | Updated: 22 July 2020, 08:47

This is staggering – the UK doesn't know if Russia interfered in the Brexit vote because it never sought to ask!

For years ministers have consistently batted off questions about whether Vladimir Putin's regime attempted to meddle in the EU referendum, saying that there was no evidence of "successful interference".

We now know why.

They had never specifically instructed MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - the intelligence and security agencies tasked with protecting the UK - with looking at precisely this issue.

It is a damning finding from a report by the powerful Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) that Boris Johnson ensured did not see the light of day until long after the last election in December.

Kevan Jones, a Labour member of the intelligence watchdog, who also sat on the previous ISC that compiled the report, called it a "scandal".

It is hard not to disagree, especially as it is not as though there were no warning bells for the previous Theresa May and David Cameron governments.

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The report noted there was ample publicly available evidence of Russian attempts to use disinformation, fake news and social media bots to amplify the messages of pro-Scottish independent voices during the independence referendum in 2014.

Splitting off Scotland from the rest of the UK is exactly the kind of action President Putin's regime is alleged to seek in its efforts to weaken Western unities and democratic alliances.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Britain tearing itself apart over whether or not to leave the European Union would also be supported by Moscow, regardless of the result - it left the UK significantly distracted for the past four years. Job done.

MPs say blame lies at the foot of ministers, but questions might also be raised about why MI5, MI6 and GCHQ did not try harder to grip what the report describes as the "hot potato" that is defending the UK's democratic processes.