Russia report: Tony Blair calls on government to investigate Moscow’s alleged interference in Brexit

‘Whether we’ve taken our eye off the ball or just decided not to put our eye on it is an interesting question,’ says former PM

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 26 July 2020 15:50 BST
Tony Blair says Brexit not due to Russian interference

Tony Blair has called on the government to investigate alleged Russian interference in the Brexit referendum after the publication of the long-delayed report into the Kremlin’s involvement in domestic British politics.

Releasing a 50-page document earlier this week, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) warned that Moscow’s influence in the UK was the “new normal” and accused successive governments of not wanting to address the issue surrounding the 2016 vote with a “10-foot pole”.

Speaking after Boris Johnson dismissed the committee’s recommendation of an assessment of potential interference, Mr Blair, the former Labour prime minister, claimed it would be “sensible” for a probe to take place.

“We’re still with one of the best security services in the world – you’ve got to build the capability to investigate what foreign governments are trying to do in interfering with our system and expose it and the more you expose it, the less effective it will be or the less it will happen,” he said.

“I think it would be sensible to investigate what has happened but really, the most important thing is to create the capacity for the future, to make sure that you know what’s going on in your democratic politics because this interference – and it’s only one aspect of cyber-security, by the way – this interference is going to be more and more widespread because the capabilities are much greater.”

However, Mr Blair also claimed it would be “foolish” to believe the referendum result itself was a consequence of any interference from the Russian state.

“Whether we’ve taken our eye off the ball or just decided not to put our eye on it is an interesting question,” he added.

“We live in a new world today where cyber-security is going to be a massive, massive question for government and there are governments that want to weaken the west; we know basically why they want to do it, and we’ve just got to make sure that they are all the time constrained.”

According to a survey released by Opinium pollsters on Saturday, almost half of the British public (49 per cent) think that Kremlin interfered in the 2016 vote, including 39 per cent of those who voted for Leave and 63 per cent who advocated Remain.

Head of polling at Opinium, Adam Drummond, said: “Although the EU referendum is the most obvious example, what’s interesting is the consistent pattern across all election and referendums over the past five years where around half of voters believe that the Russian government interfered with our political process, and this belief is about twice as high among Remain voters as Leave voters.

“That said, the fact that more believe it happened than did not happen and that 66 per cent of UK adults put Russia in the ‘threat’ category, suggests a degree of political consensus about the problem in the future.”

After the publication of the report, the government said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum. The intelligence and security agencies provide and contribute to regular assessments of the threat posed by hostile state activity, including around potential interference in UK democratic processes.

“We keep such assessments under review and, where necessary, update them in response to new intelligence, including during democratic events such as elections and referendums. When new information emerges, the government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence it develops or receives, including whether it is appropriate to make this public. Given this long-standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU referendum is not necessary.”

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