The Daily Telegraph
Russia ‘tried to meddle in Scottish vote’
Long-awaited report will lay bare Kremlin efforts to interfere in UK elections – but says there was no influence on Brexit
RUSSIA tried to “influence” the result of the Scottish independence referendum but not the Brexit vote, a longawaited report into Moscow’s alleged meddling in British politics will disclose today.
Parliament’s intelligence and security committee will describe the Kremlin’s attempt to divide the United Kingdom in 2014 as “the first postsoviet interference in a Western democratic election”, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
However, the report concludes that there is no direct evidence of Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The findings of the 50-page report, which followed an 18-month parliamentary inquiry, will pile pressure on Boris Johnson to take a tougher line with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president.
It is also likely to lead to fresh calls in Westminster for there not to be a second Scottish independence referendum.
Last week Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said “Russian actors” tried to influence December’s general election by circulating a leaked report on US-UK trade talks that was seized upon by Jeremy Corbyn.
But the ISC report will reveal that Russia’s attempts to alter the results of British elections began five years earlier. It will conclude that there is “credible open-source commentary that Russia undertook to influence the campaign on Scottish independence”. The report, which was completed last December but had been delayed by Mr Johnson’s failure to appoint new members of the ISC after the election, will turn attention on Nicola Sturgeon’s ongoing campaign for Scottish independence.
Alex Salmond, her predecessor, led the Scottish National Party into the 2014 referendum, and three years later launched his own weekly television show on the state-sponsored RT (Russia Today) channel. In the referendum, Scotland voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to stay part of the UK.
Russia’s desire to ensure Scotland breaks away from the rest of the UK will be used by supporters of the Union to bolster their argument that Britain is stronger as one nation. Despite months of speculation about the report’s findings on the Brexit referendum, it is expected to conclude that there is no tangible evidence of Russia trying to influence the result.
A millionaire backer of one of the biggest pro-brexit campaigns has been told he will not face censure. Arron Banks, the biggest funder of the Leave. EU campaign, has been told he “is not the subject of criticism” in the report.
Left-wing newspapers had raised questions about alleged meetings between Mr Banks and Russian embassy officials, and Mr Banks’s lawyers wrote to Julian Lewis, the ISC’S new chairman, last week demanding to know if their client, who was cleared of any criminality by the National Crime Agency over £8million in EU referendum campaign funding, was named in the report.
The committee’s secretariat replied
‘London has been a haven for dodgy Russian money and a lot of people in the UK helped make that happen’
yesterday saying: “We can confirm that Mr Banks is not the subject of criticism in the ‘Russia’ report to be laid before Parliament this week.”
Mr Banks said last night: “I am not surprised. I have been exonerated by the NCA of all the crazy conspiracy theories. It is time to move on.”
Political figures, lawyers and accountants will be warned in the report against becoming involved with close aides of Mr Putin’s regime carrying out business deals in Britain.
Well-placed sources said the report will criticise the “enablers and fixers” who have facilitated the flow of Russian money into the UK, and especially London, over the past decade.
It is understood to recommend tighter controls on the handling of Russian money coming into the UK and will raise concern about attempts by the Kremlin and friends of the Russian president to gain respectability using contacts in Westminster and the City.
The ISC report is also understood to blame successive governments for being far too lenient towards Moscow even after it became clear Mr Putin had become increasingly hostile and dangerous. One source said: “The report will say that the desire by successive governments to tackle terrorism and a desire to have favourable relations with a better-behaving post-soviet Russia failed to reflect that things changed dramatically under Putin. That criticism will be made forcefully.
“The report will also call on authorities to ‘follow the money’. There are recommendations around the enablers and fixers. London has been a haven for dodgy Russian money and a lot of people in the UK have helped make that happen. Some people have made themselves very wealthy and other people have been useful idiots for the Russian regime.” The source said there are examples of “well-connected people” who are “unquestioning over who they work for”. It is thought the report will largely decline to name names.
Large parts of the annexes, which contain evidence on which the conclusions are based, have been redacted on the grounds of national security. Much of the evidence is at least a year out of date as the MPS on the committee last took evidence from the security services in the summer of 2019.
A separate source connected to the report said any sensitive information that might include ongoing intelligence investigations into Russian meddling was redacted or else excluded for reasons of national security.
But the source suggested that MPS on the committee had nevertheless been offered extra protection by the security services and counter-terrorism police for fears of Russian reprisals or cyber attacks designed to undermine their credibility. Contributors to the report include Christopher Steele, the former head of MI6’S Russia desk who wrote the notorious dossier that alleged the Kremlin had supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Last week Mr Lewis had the Tory whip withdrawn after he ignored party instructions by running against Chris Grayling, the former Cabinet minister who was the Prime Minister’s handpicked choice to chair the committee.
Mr Lewis’s appearance today at the launch of the report will be his first since the nine-member committee chose him as its chairman.