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Thu, 22 October 2020

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair calls for probe into Russian interference in Brexit referendum

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair calls for probe into Russian interference in Brexit referendum

The former PM has called for an investigation into Russia

2 min read

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged ministers to probe Russian interference into the Brexit referendum.

The former Labour leader said it was "foolish" to claim Russian interference had delivered the Brexit result, but called for an investigation to protect democracy "for the future".

His comments come after the Commons intelligence and security committee concluded that the UK had "actively avoided" investigating Russia's effort to meddle in UK politics.

The committee, which scrutinises Britain's intelligence agencies, said they had "not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference".

Speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge, Mr Blair said it would be "sensible" for ministers to launch a probe.

"I don’t believe the referendum result was because of Russian interference. That would be foolish in my view," he said.

"But you should know and the Government should investigate for the future.

"I think it would be sensible to investigate what has happened but the most important thing is to create the capacity for the future to make sure that you know what’s going on in your democratic politics.

And the former PM warned the rise of social media had made it easier for hostile states to interere in domestic politics or spread disinformation.

"This interference is going to be more and more widespread because the capabilities are much greater," he said.

"When I was in office, social media was just beginning. Now you’ve got a whole industry out there that both can do this type of attacks or campaigns of disinformation, and those who can protect you against it.

"You’ve got to keep these things in context but the fact is you should protect your country and if someone is interfering with your democratic process you want to know about it."

The intervention is likely to put further pressure on Boris Johnson to cede to pressure from MPs to order an investigation into the findings, despite previously rejecting the suggestion.

Responding to the report, the Government's official response had said there was "no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum".

They added: "Where new information emerges, the Government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence it develops or recieves, including whether it is appropriate to make this public.

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

And asked whether Mr Johnson personally believed the referendum had been fair, a spokesperson said: "Yes, absolutely.

"We've seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum."

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