- Labour MP Ben Bradshaw says British people have a right to know if Russia meddled in Brexit.
- He is pressing the government for greater transparency and has asked select committees to investigate Kremlin interference.
- Other Labour MPs have also raised concerns about interference from Vladimir Putin’s regime.
LONDON — Labour MPs are ratcheting up pressure on the government to reveal whether Russia interfered in the EU referendum.
Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw told Business Insider that the “public has a right to know” if the Kremlin attempted to influence the outcome of the Brexit vote in June last year.
He is concerned that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is not being transparent enough about the issue — particularly now there is acceptance in the US and other European nations that Russia has attempted to meddle in democratic decisions, he said.
Bradshaw pressed the government on the matter in two separate House of Commons debates in December last year, during the second of which he asked the prime minister what is being done to investigate Kremlin interference.
May told him that Russia is taking a more “aggressive stance” on foreign diplomacy, adding: “We take the issue of state-sponsored intervention and cyber attacks very seriously indeed.”
Bradshaw: ‘It’s slightly suspicious that they’re not being more open’
Bradshaw, who has been dismissed as a “Remoaner” by Brexiteers like UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, thinks more detail is needed about British intelligence on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine UK democracy.
Our government clearly knows more than they’re letting on and I think it’s slightly suspicious that they’re not being more open about it
“I was very suspicious about the UK government’s reticence in talking about this,” he told BI. “Our government clearly knows more than they’re letting on and I think it’s slightly suspicious that they’re not being more open about it. In fact, they’re being less open than any other Western democracy has been.”
British intelligence officials have shown their expertise on Russia recently. They reportedly tipped off the US in 2015 about the extent of Russian hacking on the presidential election, while Alex Younger, the head of the British intelligence agency MI6, hinted at the threat the country poses in a rare speech last year.
Bradshaw is now stepping up the pressure on the government to reveal further information, including whether Russia provided direct political funding for Brexit campaigners. He is also keen to find out if Putin’s regime is behind fake news website, social media bots, and Twitter trolls in the UK.
Bradshaw intends to carry on raising concerns in the House of Commons, while he has also asked cross-party select committees to examine Russian interference.
Bradshaw said Culture, Media, and Sport Committee chairman Damien Collins has agreed to examine Russian propaganda as part of the group’s inquiry on fake news.
He has also asked Intelligence and Security Committee to investigate the issue. Bradshaw said he received a “cryptic” reply from the committee’s chairman Dominic Grieve and so is uncertain whether his request will be granted.
Bradshaw said he has also contacted National Security Strategy Committee chair Margaret Beckett to lodge a similar request on Russia.
A spokesperson for the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee told BI that it would be looking at the role of Russia as part of its fake news inquiry. However, a spokesperson for the Joint Commitee on National Security Strategy said it had “no plans to take this up directly.”
Piling on the pressure
“It’s something I’m going to carry plugging away on,” Bradshaw told us.
“I’d like to see more openness and candour from the government. Every single bit of information that we’ve got from ministers has had to be squeezed out of them through parliamentary questions, challenging them in the chamber, and so forth.
“It’s something I’m going to carry plugging away on, but I don’t have any firm instinct that there’s a [Marine] Le Pen-type relationship with the Kremlin that there has been in France with the direct funding, but stranger things have happened.”
He said other Labour MPs are also taking a keen interest in the matter. Only this week, Chris Bryant told Parliament: “There is now clear evidence of Russian direct, corrupt involvement in elections in France, in Germany, in the United States of America, and I would argue also in this country.”
Ian Austin, the Labour MP for Dudley North, has also asked the government repeated questions about the impartiality of RT, the Kremlin-backed Russian TV news channel. RT has breached impartiality rules twice in the past three years, according to media regulator Ofcom.
Business Insider understands that several other Labour MPs, including Mary Creagh and Chuka Umunna, are supporting the calls for further investigation into Russian influence.
Labour is not always on the wrong end of Russian propaganda. The BBC reported on Wednesday that a network of pro-Russian Twitter accounts seemed to be trying to swing the crucial Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s party. The multiple accounts were first identified by researcher Alex King as posting pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine propaganda.
An EU official, who specialises in Kremlin disinformation, told BI last month that the propaganda is aimed at destabilising Europe. “Any chance to divide and destabilise the West is exploited. It goes hand in hand with the political aim of the current Russian regime. They see themselves as being in a war with the West,” the source said.
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