Russian interference in British politics laid bare ahead of local elections

Parties to 'focus on local elections' before partygate says expert

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Britons will head to the polls next week to decide who they want to run services that affect day to day life in their local area. More than 4,350 seats will be contested in England on over 140 councils, with all of Wales’ 22 councils and Scotland’s 32 councils also holding elections. The elections directly decide who is responsible for an area’s planning woes, housing and rubbish collections.

They also allow voters to make their feelings known on the cost of living crisis, Partygate and a number of other national issues.

The results are set to paint a very vivid picture of the national mood for the first time since the snap 2019 General Election.

Disinformation and foreign interference pose a significant threat to Western democracies, particularly in and around election periods.

Both the 2019 General Election and 2016 Brexit referendum, as well as the 2016 US election and 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, were targeted by Russia disinformation campaigns.

The Intelligence and Security Committee Russia report, otherwise known as ‘The Russia report’, investigated the allegations of Russia interference in British politics.

Completed in 2019, before the General Election, it was published in July 2020 and concluded there is substantial evidence that Russian interference in British politics is widespread.

One of the report’s key findings said Russian influence in the UK is the “new normal”.

It said: “The money was also invested in extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment — PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions were all willing beneficiaries of Russian money, contributing to a ‘reputation laundering’ process.

“In brief, Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth.”

The report described the UK as one of Russia’s “top targets”, adding it is “seen as central to the Western anti-Russian lobby”.

Members of the Russian elite closely linked to Putin were also involved in British charitable and political organisations, which the report concluded puts them in a position to help Kremlin influence operations.

It said: “It is notable that a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state — these relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.”

Damningly, the report accused Downing Street of deliberately making no effort to find out how Russian influence might have affected the Brexit vote.

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The committee was unable to assess the impact of alleged Russian interference in the June 2016 referendum, because there was no attempt by the Government or intelligence services to investigate.

Russian interference in the 2016 vote has never been definitely proven, with a number of Russian experts casting doubt over a coordinated bid to interfere.

The Russia report prompted a group of MPs and peers from a range of parties to challenge failures to investigate interference.

A group including Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, former Green party leader Caroline Lucas and Lord Strasburger of the Lib Dems has launched legal action with the European Court of Human Rights.

The group alleges the Government is in breach of Article 3 of the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires regular, free, secret-ballot election to “ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people”.

Mrs Lucas told The Guardian last month: “As President Putin wages a war of terror on the Ukrainian people, he’s been waging another war on the very principles of democracy.

“The Russia report is clear that there is credible evidence of Russian interference in UK electoral process – and yet our Government has consistently refused to investigate these serious conclusions.”

Lord Strasburger added: “For some time it has been obvious that Putin has infiltrated the British establishment and our Government.

“Predictably Boris Johnson delayed publication of the Russia report as long as he could and then ignored its excellent recommendations.

“Likewise he declined to tackle the tsunami of dirty money the Russian oligarchs have been allowed to launder in London and only moved against them when the Ukraine crisis meant he had no choice.”

Lord Strasburger added it is “high time to deal with this vipers’ nest” and that he hoped legal action would lead to “full exposure”.

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