Boris Johnson blocked release of Russia report against advice of intelligence agencies, Dominic Grieve says

‘This must not be allowed to happen again,’ committee chair says as parliament dissolves

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Wednesday 06 November 2019 15:41 GMT
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Dominic Grieve accuses Boris Johnson of suppressing secret report on Russian meddling in Brexit vote and UK polls

Boris Johnson personally prevented the publication of a parliamentary report on allegations of Russian interference in British politics, the chair of the committee that drew it up has said.

Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general, said intelligence agencies had actively supported the report’s release ahead of next month’s general election.

“With parliament shortly to be dissolved, we had made arrangements to print and lay the report within an hour of confirmation [from Downing Street] on this occasion,” he added.

“This has been a standard process, right up until the point that the prime minister – against the advice of the agencies themselves – stopped us from publishing.”

Answering an urgent question on the delay in the House of Commons on Tuesday, foreign minister Christopher Pincher claimed the timeframe was “not unusual”.

But Mr Grieve said prime ministers normally took a maximum of 10 working days to clear Intelligence and Security Committee reports for publication, and the one in question was submitted on 17 October.

“I am extremely disappointed, and baffled as to why the government has not given a reason why the report cannot be published,” he added.

“This must not be allowed to happen again. We cannot have a situation in which a committee of parliament is not able to share its findings with parliament and the wider public.

“I expect our successors on the committee will want to rewrite the procedures to ensure this does not occur in future.”

Mr Grieve was one of the rebel Conservatives to have the whip removed in September, and will be standing for re-election as an independent MP.

He has chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee since 2015, and said it “operates on a completely non-partisan basis” and in the national interest.

The Russia report was completely in March, before being reviewed and redacted for publication by security services and the Cabinet Office.

Intelligence service officials told The Independent they had no objection to its publication and did not know the reason for the delay, adding: “We are as much spectators in this as you are. All the redactions necessary have been done and no last-minute issues have arisen. We have no objections to the report being published now.”

It is expected to address allegations that Moscow attempted to influence the 2016 EU referendum, and examine the flow of Russian money into British institutions including the Conservative Party.

Christopher Pincher tells Dominic Grieve that Boris Johnson is 'too busy with Brexit' to read Russia report

The report can only be published with the prime minister’s approval and while parliament is sitting, but it dissolved on Wednesday for the general election.

Mr Pincher said Mr Johnson was examining the document in accordance with his duty to “carefully consider the impact of releasing sensitive information on the advice of civil servants”.

But he later suggested the prime minister was too busy with Brexit, adding: “It is not as if he has not had one or two other things to do over the past several weeks, notably obtaining a good deal for Britain on withdrawing from the European Union.”

The delay has caused consternation among opposition MPs and security officials including the former head of MI5, Lord Evans.

There is also disquiet among some Conservative MPs, who fear the damage caused by mounting suspicion as the party launches its general election campaign.

Veteran Tory David Davis said: “The ISC report on any Russian influence in our democracy should be published. To not do so risks creating a paranoid vacuum that’ll only damage the institutions we hold dear.”

During Tuesday’s debate, Labour’s shadow foreign minister said the situation suggested the Conservative Party “has something to hide”.

“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,” Emily Thornberry said.

“We are bound to ask: what is Downing Street so worried about? Why would it not welcome an official report into attempted Russian interference in the 2016 referendum, whether that was successful or otherwise? I fear it is because it realises that the report will lead to other questions.”

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