Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
This has been a scandal long in the making. It was November 2019, 8 months ago, when it first became apparent that the government was looking to delay the release of the Russia report until after the general election. After the election, we were told that we would have to wait for the Intelligence and Security Committee to be formed from the new parliament. Then, for a few enraging weeks, it seemed as though Chris Grayling was to be parachuted in as chair to bury it – a man who cannot find a problem without making it worse. And now here we are. It seems that, according to the report (published on 21st July 2020), our government has been asleep at their post, failing to investigate Russian attempts to manipulate our democracy in the 2016 European Referendum.
At best it is gross negligence. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) were explicit in saying that no attempt has been made to investigate or understand the extent of Russian attempts to subvert the sovereignty of the UK. It wasn’t that we lacked the capabilities, they were adamant about that. It wasn’t that the intelligence community did not do their jobs – indeed, under the UK intelligence system, intelligence agencies require ministerial authorisation in order to carry out investigations. The government simply didn’t ask them. Could it be that they didn’t think that anyone could have tried to interfere?
If they did, they were fools. In 2016, the Democratic National Committee was hacked, and their files leaked. The same thing happened to campaign staff of the French political party En Marche!. The US intelligence community investigated, and reported back 2 months later, issuing a declassified public summary, all of which pointed to Russian interference. The resulting investigation resulted in the FBI gaining warrants for the arrest of 12 Russian military intelligence officers, after their indictment by an American grand jury. In the case of En Marche!, the chief of the NSA suggested in a committee hearing that the origin was Russian, not disputing characterisations of the event as a Russian cyberattack intended to destabilise the French government.
We know, courtesy of the defence lab at Porton Down, the OPCW, and Buzzfeed, of all things, that there may have been multiple killings or attempted killings by the Russian state on Russian expatriates on British soil. Some 14 are suspected to have been murdered, according to detailed reports by the news company, and the Russian state is believed to be connected. And that was before the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury. Chemical weapons used on British soil. Preceding all of this, the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, with radioactive material placed in his tea.
So, we have a state, with a history of hostile activity on British soil, active in disrupting democratic proceedings globally around the time of the most important vote of a generation in this country. And the government didn’t investigate.
This leads us towards a less-than savoury conclusion. That the UK government, including both the iterations of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, would not authorise an investigation. Whether they were specifically given the option by intelligence agencies or advisers is unknown, but the lack of action itself is suspicious. Not direct guilt per se, but definitely not innocent, and certainly negligent.
As a line of argument, it makes sense. It would have been far too inconvenient for the government to re-examine the foundation upon which they had built their great political project: Brexit, sanctified by the blessing of ‘the people’ (and the Conservative leadership), had to be above question. Add into the equation the fact that the Conservative party has accepted considerable amounts in donations from Russians connected to Putin’s state apparatus, including £1.6 million from the wife of a former Russian minister, and the picture is less than rosy.
What does this mean here and now? It means that these past two governments, who came to power on a wave of chest-beating, flag-waving nationalism, refused to put country before party when it mattered. It means that the governing party has repeatedly failed in its duty to protect the UK, having spent the past 5 years accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being a threat to national security. It means that we are governed by a morally craven band of mercenaries, who won’t do what is necessary for the sake of political expedience, and are happy to profit from their weakness.