Dominic Grieve demands Number 10 retract 'slur' as row over unpublished Russia report deepens

Posted On: 
5th November 2019

Dominic Grieve has called on Downing Street to withdraw a “slur” against him amid a deepening row over an unpublished report on Russian interference in UK democracy.

Dominic Grieve chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Credit: 
Parliament

The former attorney general - who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee - pushed back after a senior government source said its latest report had been leaked “in a very selective way”.

And Mr Grieve dismissed as “plainly bogus” the Government’s reasons for holding back the findings.

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The ISC inquiry is said to have taken evidence from members of the intelligence services and looked into claims that the Kremlin tried to influence the outcome of the EU referendum in 2016 as well as the following year's general election.

But its findings have yet to be made public - despite Mr Grieve telling the Commons on Tuesday that the report had been cleared by both the intelligence agencies and the Cabinet Office “by early October”. 

“That is why on the 17 October the report was sent to the Prime Minister for final confirmation,” he said.

“It is a longstanding agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond within ten days.”

And he added: “My secretariat tell me that it is unprecedented that we should have had no response at all explaining why any further delay is required in this case.”

A government source on Monday hit out at the focus on the ISC report, saying: "ISC's are not supposed to leak, but this one has in a very selective way. There is genuine concern about this."

A Downing Street spokesman meanwhile said: "There are processes reports such as this have to go through before publication and the committee is well informed of these."

But Mr Grieve pushed back in a Commons question to Foreign Office minister Chris Pincher, as he said claims the report would need “weeks of further inter-departmental consultations” were “plainly bogus”.

And he asked the minister: “Can he explain why a Number 10 spokesman suggested parts of the report had been leaked by the committee when it’s plainly obvious to anybody who looks at the journalistic speculations that it has not?

“And would he now like to take an opportunity of withdrawing that particular slur which came from Number 10?”

But Mr Pincher insisted it was typical for ISC reports to “go through an intensive security review before publication” and said Boris Johnson took his responsibility not to publish sensitive information "very seriously".

The minister added: ”The average turnaround time is six weeks. The average response to the committee is anywhere between three or four weeks.

“And it is not as if… the Prime Minister has had not one or two other things to do during the last several weeks - notably obtaining a good deal for Britain in withdrawing from the European Union. 

“So it is not unusual that the turnaround time is what it is.”

And, dismissing Mr Grieve’s call for a retraction of the leak claim, Mr Pincher said: “As to leaks: Mr Speaker well we see quite a few of those I suppose. We deplore them all. And I certainly wouldn’t want anybody to believe what is in a leak, particularly if it appears on the frontpages of certain newspapers.”

'AFFRONT TO OUR DEMOCRACY'

That drew an angry response from Labour’s Emily Thornberry, with the Shadow Foreign Secretary condemning what she called an “utterly unjustifiable, unprecedented and clearly politically motivated” delay to the report.

She added: “This is not at the request of the intelligence agencies. There are no foreign powers we have to consult.... 

“This is nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth from the public and from Parliament and it is an affront to our democracy.”

The Commons row came after the former head of the MI5 intelligence agency backed calls for the report to be published before Parliament is dissolved at midnight for the general election campaign.

Lord Evans of Weardale, who led MI5 until 2013, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In principle, I think it should be released.”

And he added: “If the Government have a reason why this should not be published before the election, then I think they should make it very clear what that reason is.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The ISC deals with matters of national security and intelligence.

“Their reports always contain sensitive information so it is entirely right that reports such as these go through an intensive security review before publication.

“The current length of time that this report has been with the Government is not unusual as this has averaged around six weeks for reports published in recent years.”