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Sun, 27 September 2020

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By Hft

MPs threaten Boris Johnson with legal action over Russian election interference probe

MPs threaten Boris Johnson with legal action over Russian election interference probe

A polling station in Ely (Credit: PA)

2 min read

A cross-party group of MPs has threatened Boris Johnson with legal action over an independent investigation into Russian election interference.

The group, which includes Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour's Chris Bryant, said the Prime Minister's "lack of action" in tackling Russian interference breached the right to free elections.

Their letter comes after a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded in July that the UK had "badly underestimated" the threat posed by the Kremlin and accused ministers of failing to take steps to investigate whether foreign actors had meddled in elections.

But in a pre-action letter to Downing Street, the MPs said they would take Mr Johnson to court as a "last resort" if he failed to order an independent investigation into the issue.

And the group claimed the refusal to probe the issue could constitute a breach of the European convention of human rights, which enshrines the right to fair and free elections.

Brighton Pavillion MP Caroline Lucas said ministers' handling of the threat had been "shockingly complacent and negligent".

"Democratic processes are clearly at risk," she said. "It seems that the integrity of our elections is being deliberately undermined. Nothing could be more serious for our democracy.

"Ministers’ behaviour to date has been shockingly complacent and negligent. The government cannot be allowed to shirk this because Tory party coffers are topped up with Russian money."

Meanwhile, Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, added: "The government's refusal to investigate is a complete deriliction of their duty to keep us and our way of life safe."

Other signatories to the letter include SNP MP Alyn Smith, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw and Lib Dem peers Lord Strasburget and Baroness Wheatcroft.

But hitting back at the comments, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said protecting the electoral process from outside interference was an "absolute priority".

"Safeguarding our democracy will always be an absolutel priority and the UK has robust systems in place to protect our elections from interference," they said.

"To prevent any future threats we are bringing forward new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt hostile state activity.

"And we have also published proposals for a digital imprint regime that will improve transparency in political campaigning online, and are developing an online media literacy strategy, to help empower the public to question the information they read online."

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