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Russia report: Government 'actively avoided' looking for evidence Moscow interfered in Brexit referendum, says watchdog

Russia report: Government 'actively avoided' looking for evidence Moscow interfered in Brexit referendum, says watchdog

ISC member Stewart Hosie said no-one in Government wanted to touch the issue of Russian interference with a '10-foot pole' (Sky News)

4 min read

The Government “actively avoided” looking for evidence Russia interfered in the EU referendum “because they did not want to know”, according to a Parliamentary security watchdog.

Intelligence and Security Committee member (ISC) Stewart Hosie said no-one in government wanted to touch the issue with a "10-foot pole”.

He was speaking after the long-awaited report into alleged Russian interference in British democracy was finally published, which criticised the intelligence agencies for failing to reassure the public the 2016 Brexit vote was safe from outside influence.

The Government has already rejected calls for an in-depth probe of whether the Kremlin sought to affect the outcome of the 2016 vote.

But in a press conference after the results of the inquiry were unveiled, Mr Hosie 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 actively avoided looking for evidence Russia interfered.

“We were told they haven’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they haven’t looked for it.”

He added: “The committee found it astonishing that no one in Government had sought beforehand to protect the referendum from such attempts, or investigate it afterwards what attempts to influence it there may have been.”

And the SNP MP told reporters the committee was "concerned" to find "there is no clear coordination" between the organisations in the UK's intelligence community.

His concerns were echoed by fellow ISC member Kevan Jones, who asked: "Who is protecting our democratic process? In a nutshell, no-one is.”

He said "no one" in the Government "sought to look or ask the question that needed to be asked".

And the reason the ISC found "no evidence" Russia sought to influence the EU referendum was because “no one asked the work to be done”.

The Labour MP said the Government has to "take responsibility" for failing to look into possible interference by Moscow, saying to "side-step" and blame the intelligence agencies was "not fair".

But the Government rejected the suggestion it had "badly underestimated" the Russian threat, saying it “remains a top national security priority”.

In its official response to the report it said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU Referendum.”

And it explained that it receives regular assessments of the threat of potential interference in UK democratic processes from the ISC, adding: “Given this longstanding approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU Referendum is not necessary.”

Ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the former chair of the ISC who led the inquiry, said: “The point that we made in our report is that nobody looked to see if there was Russian interference. 

“And frankly, from the evidence that we saw at the time, nobody has been looking since in a focused way as to whether it happened or not.”

He told Sky News: “So, one of the aims of this report, and I want to emphasise it wasn't just about electoral interference of electoral processes, was whether we could answer that question and provide reassurance to the public that there hadn't been. 

“Or if there had been it had been stopped in some way. We weren't able to do that.”

And Dr Julian Lewis, the new ISC chair, attacked the delay in publishing the “Russia Report”, which was completed last year.

“This committee has been subjected to unprecedented delay and dislocation, this really must never happen again,” he told the press conference.

“The sooner normal relations between this committee and the Government the better it will be for all concerned.”

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