PM accused of IGNORING possible Russian interference in Brexit – ‘didn’t want to know’

Tory MPs weren't 'properly vetted' amid Brexit says Soubry

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be hoping the Conservative Party can come out of the local elections this week relatively unscathed, following mounting pressure over Partygate scandals and the Government’s handling of the cost of living crisis. A new survey conducted by Electoral Calculus has predicted this week that the Conservatives are on track to lose nearly 550 seats in the local elections in the worst performance since Sir Tony Blair led Labour in the 1990s. Labour will hold 3,500 council seats – a gain of more than 800 – whilst the Tories will retain just under 980, a fall of 548, according to the survey of 1,749 adults in the 201 councils going to the polls on Thursday.

Tory candidates have pushed hard on the line that the UK’s support for Ukraine and tough sanctions on Russia should be enough to see them continue in power, with the hopes this will help limit the damage in the vote on Thursday.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he plans to “get on with the job” in the wake of the Partygate scandal, and has implied that the instability of a new Government would be detrimental to the UK at such a precarious time for Europe, with war raging on the continent for the first time since World War 2.

However, Mr Johnson and his Conservative Party colleagues were accused of turning a blind eye to Russian interference when it came to the Brexit referendum in 2016.

The claims came in a report from Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – titled the ‘Russia Report’.

It said the Government “had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes” at the time, and it made clear that no serious effort was made to do so.

Stewart Hosie, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP who sat on the cross-party committee, said: “The report reveals that no one in Government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know.

“The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”

The committee, which scrutinises the work of Britain’s spy agencies, said: “We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference.”

Contrasting with the how the US looked into Russian interference in its own democratic votes, the report added: “This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public.”

The Committee members stressed that they cannot conclusively say whether Russia had or had not interfered in the referendum on the UK’s EU membership.

The report continued: “Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”

An official UK government response said at the time: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum.

“Given this long-standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU referendum is not necessary.”

As reported by the Guardian at the time, the committee observed that the UK has become “a favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money”.

The extent of Russian money in the UK became apparent last month when the BBC reported that a dozen sanctioned Russians are linked to an estimated £800million worth of property in Britain.

Multi-million-pound country manors in the south of England and luxury flats in London’s most expensive areas are among the homes which have been snapped up by figures linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Transparency, an anti-corruption group, explained to the broadcaster why Russian money in the UK has been so hard to track.

They said: “Because of the system of secrecy here in the UK and in relation to the Overseas Dependencies it’s really easy for people to hide their assets and their funds in the UK and not even the police necessarily have sight of where those assets are.”

In March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government announced it would impose sanctions on 370 more Russian individuals, including more than 50 oligarchs and their families with a combined net worth of £100billion.

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said: “We are going further and faster than ever in hitting those closest to Putin – from major oligarchs, to his prime minister, and the propagandists who peddle his lies and disinformation.

“We are holding them to account for their complicity in Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.”

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