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Sat, 24 October 2020

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Russia accused of ‘interfering’ in general election by pushing leaked UK-US trade docs used by Jeremy Corbyn to attack Government

Russia accused of ‘interfering’ in general election by pushing leaked UK-US trade docs used by Jeremy Corbyn to attack Government

Jeremy Corbyn used the leaked documents during the general election campaign (PA)

4 min read

The Government has accused Russia of trying to “interfere in the 2019 General Election” by pushing stolen documents about UK-US trade negotiations.

The leaked materials were picked up by the Labour Party and used by Jeremy Corbyn to attack the Government in the run-up to the December 2019 poll.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable” and confirmed there is an ongoing criminal investigation into how the documents were acquired in the first place.

There is no suggestion Labour were involved in the acquisition of the documents, which Mr Corbyn said showed the NHS would be at risk under a post-Brexit trade deal with America, and first appeared on the Reddit website last summer.

The party said it condemned "any attempt by Russia" to interfere with British democracy.

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Raab said they the documents not initially picked up by politicians or the media, and that this led to “Russian actors” seeking to promote them online.

He said: “During the 2019 General Election a cross-Government election security cell was stood up to coordinate responses to threats and hazards relating to the election.

“On the basis of extensive analysis, the Government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.

“Sensitive Government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit. 

“When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the General Election.

“Whilst there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable. 

“It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections.

“There is an ongoing criminal investigation and it would be inappropriate for us to say anything further at this point.”

'RIGHT TO RESPOND'

But while the Cabinet minister is not formally accusing anyone of stealing the details of meetings between negotiators, Reddit themselves have long suggested the original hack came via Russia too.

They said in a statement on 7 December last year: “We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK. 

“We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it, and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia.”

Mr Raab said the Government “reserves the right to respond with appropriate measures in the future”, adding: “The UK will continue to call out and respond to malign activity, including any attempts to interfere in our democratic processes, alongside our international partners.

“We fully support the recent action taken by our German partners who exposed Russian responsibility for the hack of their Parliament in 2015 as well as their intention to act against those responsible under the cyber sanctions regime.”

LABOUR: 'PROTECT OUR NATION'S SECURITY'

The move comes just hours after the announcement a long-awaited report into wider Russian involvement in British politics will be made public within days.

The inquiry is being published by the newly-formed Intelligence and Security Committee, whose chair Dr Julian Lewis has been kicked out of the Tory party for running against Number 10’s preferred candidate Chris Grayling.

The report, which has been sat fully completed for almost a year, is potentially embarrassing for the Conservatives as it is expected to reveal the influence and extent of Russian donations to it.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was "nonsense" to suggest the timing of the statement on the trade documents was meant to distract from the ISC chairman row and the impending “Russia Report”.

Number 10 said it was made at this time because the ISC had to be briefed about it before publication, which was only formed this week.

A Labour spokesperson said: “We condemn any attempt by Russia, or any foreign power, to interfere in our country’s democratic processes.

“Labour stands ready to work cross-party to protect our nation’s security.”

But they added: “That includes in our response to the publication of the long-awaited report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on the Russian threat to the UK.”

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