Expert View

We need truth about Russian subversion of referendum

by Ben Bradshaw | 21.11.2017

Ben Bradshaw is Labour MP for Exeter.

When I first started asking questions about Russian interference in Britain last year, I think it’s fair to say that most people thought I was was a bit of a crank.

Twelve months on, we have multiple investigations by the Electoral Commission. These include the role of Russian generated and funded social media activity in the referendum campaign and funding of the campaign itself and its main financial backer Arron Banks.

The Electoral Commission has fined the DUP, the Northern Ireland party that is keeping the Conservatives in office, for taking impermissible donations from an obscure organisation called the Constitutional Research Council. They gave more than £400,000 to the DUP during the Referendum, most of which was spent in England and the Commission says it imposed the fine because of a failure to reveal the source of the money. Now the Commission has launched an investigation into whether Vote Leave spent more than allowed during the referendum.

The Commons Culture and Media Select Committee is holding an inquiry into Kremlin backed social media, as evidence of the huge scale of this activity on both sides of the Atlantic mounts.

I’d be surprised and disappointed if Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee, now it has finally been reconstituted, does not examine this area as well. After all, it has unique and direct access to the heads of our intelligence and security services.

Then there is the powerful US investigation, led by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, looking into alleged collusion between Putin and the Trump campaign. This has already reached our shores – indicted and other named individuals having undertaken their activities here in the UK.

In spite all of this, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was still insisting earlier this month that he was not aware of any Russian interference in our democracy. The prime minister, in her otherwise excoriating attack on Kremlin methods in her Mansion House speech, went out of her way to exclude Britain from the long list of countries targeted.

The government still seems determined to do whatever it can to avoid talking about this subject. Given the mounting difficulties ministers already face delivering Brexit they are understandably neuralgic about acknowledging anything that could lead people to question the legitimacy of the referendum result. Ministers are also hyper-anxious about doing or saying anything to embarrass Donald Trump, on whom they depend for the fantasy trade deal which they believe is going to save us from the economic fallout from leaving the EU.

This reticence is no longer sustainable. Nor does it serve our national interest. It is in any event likely to be overtaken by events and information yet to come out. The government will be left looking flat footed, evasive or worse.

I don’t know where this will end. But I do know that there are theories being worked on and allegations being investigated which, if proven, would be game-changers.

Without Russian subversion of the referendum, there would be plenty of very good reasons to exit from Brexit. But, if that subversion did happen, we have the right to know, because this goes to the heart of the security and integrity of our democracy.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    2 Responses to “We need truth about Russian subversion of referendum”

    • We all know what happens when a bulldozer ‘accidentally’ demolishes a listed building. Wrists are slapped, fines are levied. But guess what? The building stays down and a new Tesco rises from the ashes.

      We are in a very real danger of the same practice with Brexit. We push ourselves past the limit and suddenly there is no UK to preserve and no amount of going back will restore it. We will be an empty shell ready to be filled with whatever the 1% chooses and run in the way they deem best.

    • An interesting article, thanks. Has anyone investigated any funding of Momentum by the Russians? I am not targeting labour in particular, as I think that UKiP, the DUP and conservatives, as well as the two leave campaigns have had funding and assistance by Russians and US billionaires. Yet, I have wondered about Labour. They would be the only major political players not influenced. Somehow I find that difficult to believe. Call it a hunch, but I think it is one worth investigating…