Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson doesn’t want us to see the parliamentary report on Russian meddling in the EU referendum campaign and the security threat that the Kremlin represents to elections in the UK. After an 18 month long investigation the report was due to be published this week, but the government has refused to authorise its release. This means that the report will not see the light of day until after the general election – if at all.
Is this reluctance of our Brexit supporting Prime Minister to allow the public to see the extent of Russian involvement in the EU referendum and the degree to which Russian cash is fueling the Tory party because:
a) There’s absolutely nothing of interest in the report and he’s sparing us the boredom out of kindness and altruism.
b) He’s got a prior engagement at the school of one of the kids that he’s remembered he’s got.
c) He doesn’t want the report to clash with the release of Donald Trump’s tax returns.
d) The report is deeply damaging to a Conservative party that’s feeding on Russian dark money, and shows that the EU referendum was won by a leave campaign that not only broke electoral law, it was also aided by Vladimir Putin, thus undermining the validity of the referendum’s result.
My money is on d).
The report is understood to shine a spotlight on the Russian money that is fuelling the Conservative party, and to have examined the allegations that Russian bot farms and social media manipulation had a major influence in boosting support for Brexit during the 2016 EU referendum. The campaign was marked by a proliferation of fake news promoted online, it is thought, by Russian interests. In addition, there have been numerous reports in recent years that British politics, and the Conservative party in particular, have developed a dependency on cash from Russian oligarchs.
So for example at a Tory fundraiser in 2018, Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband was Vladimir Putin’s deputy finance minister, paid £20,000 at an auction in order to have lunch with Ruth Davidson. The Russian minister’s wife has been a regular donor to the Tories, having paid £30,000 the previous year in order to have lunch with Gavin Williamson – whose sole claim to fame is that he later had to resign for leaking proceedings from the National Security Council and in so doing wrested the title of Disgraced Former Defence Secretary from Liam Fox. Williamson is now back in Government. In 2014, Chernukhin paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. She has donated a total of £626,500 to the Conservatives since 2012.
It is believed that the Conservatives have received £3m from Russian oligarchs since 2010. In the 20 months before March 2018, the Tories received £820,000 from Russian sources. Tory supporters claim that suggestions that Russian donors are buying influence are mere innuendo. That’s £820,000 worth of innuendo right there.
Then there’s the dark money which the Conservative branch office in Scotland used to fund its campaign in 2017. Certain constituencies were flooded with cash, which in turn assured the Conservatives of victory. We don’t know, we’re not allowed to know, who provided the money or what, if anything, they expected in return for it. Yet public, open, and transparent crowdfunders from pro-independence websites are regularly decried and denounced by those same Tories and their supporters. If Vladimir Putin’s pals were giving me the same amount of money that they give to the Tories, I wouldn’t have to bother doing an annual crowdfunder. Just sayin’. And I would also be denounced in the press as a threat to national security.
All of this calls into question the stability of British democracy. But there’s scarcely a word in the broadcast media or the press. Yet can you imagine the howls of anger if the SNP had been courting Russian donations and had received even a fraction of the amount raked in by the Tories? There was a concerted campaign of outrage in the Scottish media when former First Minister Alex Salmond decided to broadcast his TV show on a Russian owned channel, and he’s no longer actively involved in politics. Yet Conservative MPs receive four times as much money from Russian TV as Labour politicians do, and considerably more than anyone in the SNP.
The links to Russian money and the behaviour of the Vote Leave campaign have raised serious questions about the reliability of the EU referendum result. Vote Leave’s campaign director was Dominic Cummings, a man who is now a senior advisor in Number 10 Downing Street, widely believed to be the person responsible for the decision to prorogue Parliament unlawfully in a failed attempt to ram through a no deal Brexit by 31 October. Yet when Cummings was called to appear before a Commons committee investigating the issue of fake news during the EU referendum, he refused to show up. The Commons later ruled that his refusal to appear put him in contempt of Parliament. Labour’s Emily Thornberry has raised questions about Cummings’ links to Russia and whether he was properly vetted by the security services before being appointed to the senior post he now occupies.
The Vote Leave campaign was fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. It was later fined £61,000 for breaking electoral law by exceeding spending limits. We learned last week that evidence related to overspending by the Vote Leave campaign has been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police. It is entirely possible that criminal charges will be brought.
So you might think given the stink that already surrounds the fairness and probity of an EU referendum whose result has had such a massive impact upon the politics, economy, and future of the UK, that the British Government would do its utmost to ensure that there would be complete transparency and openness about all investigations into the referendum in order to reestablish public trust in British democracy. All the more so because some of the most senior people in the British Government, including the Prime Minister himself and his most senior advisor, were intimately involved in the campaign at the heart of the allegations about Russian interference. You would of course be wrong.
The British Government has refused to authorise release of the report, despite it already having been cleared for publication by the security services, and despite the fact that the document was first sent out for official clearance as long ago as March. It has refused to give a date for publication, but it is no longer possible for it to see the light of day before the election. This is a report which could have a direct and devastating impact upon public trust in the Government. You can hear the sound of arse-covering all the way from Westminster. UK politics are not fit for purpose and British politicians can no longer insist that the public gives them the benefit of the doubt. The onus is on the Conservatives to prove that we are not living in a state where wealthy Russian interests are buying influence at the very heart of government. The Government’s decision to block publication of this report suggests that we are living in such a state.
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