When it comes to Brexit, British interference got us into this mess

In any case, Boris Johnson knows for a fact the Russians have no interest in winning influence in Britain, because he accepted £160,000 from Russian oligarch Lubov Chernukhin to play her at tennis

Mark Steel
Thursday 23 July 2020 18:57
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Boris Johnson claims Labour using Russia report as 'Islingtonian Remainer plot to undermine' Brexit

The first lesson we can learn from the way the government handled this report about the Russians trying to fiddle with our elections is it’s fine to have something ready, then wait nine months before letting anyone see it.

We would be so much more relaxed if we all did this. Kids could tell their teachers: “I’ve finished my geography homework. I’ll hand it in next April.”

In a cafe, the waiter could tell you the sausage and chips are ready, so they’ll bring them out a few weeks after Christmas.

The government seems just as calm about the Russians trying to influence our democracy. The prime minister answered Keir Starmer’s question about the report by saying, “You’ve had more flip-flops than Bournemouth beach.”

This is an impressively chilled reaction to another country trying to alter your government. Maybe Boris Johnson learned this at a mindfulness class, where he was told, “If you’re prime minister, and the Russians try to muck about with your election, don’t get stressed. Breathe deeply, chant ‘we’re getting Brexit done’ 4 million times, and make a funny joke, such as ‘You do more whining than a man who runs an active vineyard’, to soothe your spiritual journey.”

The report concluded the government “had not seen or sought evidence” of interference by Russia “because they did not want to know”. That’s a novel method for investigating a crime, to not want to find any evidence.

There should be a detective series, starring Boris Johnson’s cabinet. They turn up to a murder scene, and they’re told, “A man was seen shooting the victim. We caught him hiding in this cupboard. Here he is.” So Boris Johnson says, “We’ll never work out who did it. Close the case.” The whole programme would be over in nine seconds, proving how efficient they are.

Boris Johnson also told us the real reason anyone was concerned about the report was they were an “Islingtonian Remainer” trying to undermine the referendum result.

This will be how everything works now for a couple of hundred years. The government could be caught setting up a series of brothels in Kuala Lumpur to fund the cabinet’s crystal meth habit. And when Keir Starmer says: “Could the prime minister assure the house he will cease his forays into prostitution and partaking of class A narcotics’?” Johnson would reply: “Ah, aha, what we have, indeed, Mr Speaker, is a flagrant attempt, er attempt, to undermine the historic vote of the British people.”

In any case, Boris Johnson knows for a fact the Russians have no interest in winning influence in Britain, because he accepted £160,000 from Russian oligarch Lubov Chernukhin to play her at tennis.

So he must know that Russian business doesn’t try to buy favours. She simply wanted to improve her tennis, and rather than do it the complicated way, by paying a tennis coach, she spent the money wisely and played Boris Johnson. She was lucky he could fit her in, between his sessions coaching Roger Federer.

You can understand why the government wouldn’t believe the claims, as it seems implausible that Putin’s people would behave in an underhand or deceitful way. It’s true they brought down a plane and lied about it, and poisoned one of our oldest cities and said they were there to admire the cathedral. But they wouldn’t try more serious things like invent a Twitter account to say the EU had a negative effect on the British jam industry.

But the biggest revelation from this issue is that for 60 years there has been a misunderstanding between us all. For all that time, Conservative people would say to anyone slightly liberal: “If you had your way, you’d let the Russians run the country.” We thought they were angry about the Russians, but in fact they were upset because we didn’t want the Russians to run the country enough.

The Russians would fund the odd political campaign or pamphlet, but now we realise the Conservatives wanted the Russians to run our elections and dictate when our prime ministers play tennis.

There could be another reason the government is so dismissive about the report. It concludes the Russians tried to interfere through using TV programmes and social media. So Boris Johnson must think: “My oligarch mates have bought a huge chunk of London and all the riverside apartments and a football club and shares in everything, so why are people in a flap because of some programmes on Russia Today and a bunch of Twitter accounts?”

It seems unlikely that Russian social media made a decisive difference in the referendum. Or maybe it did, and Gary from Stoke said: “Here mum, I’ve just got a message from Anna3628710 on Twitter that says the EU are responsible for stealing 17 per cent of our mackerel. Sod that, I’m voting Leave.”

And Maureen from Sunderland meant to watch Homes Under the Hammer one day, but accidentally switched on Russia Today’s misleading documentary about how EU salad subsidies are unfairly biased against British cucumber farmers.

Another possibility is the Leave Campaign had an effective message and the Remain Campaign had no message. And the stories that had the greatest impact were those about taking back control, and money saved by leaving would be spent on the NHS, and the number of immigrants had reached “Breaking Point”. These ideas weren’t spread by Russian Twitter accounts, they were on billboards and Facebook pages and buses, arranged by Dominic Cummings and Nigel Farage.

So the problem with the referendum was British interference. There should be another report, that should conclude we’d have been better off only allowing foreigners to campaign in the referendum, and not let the British say anything.

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