Published: 18:08, 28 October 2020
| Updated: 06:02, 29 October 2020
A cross-party band of MPs and peers have filed legal proceedings against the Government, accusing ministers of failing to protect the UK’s democracy against Russian interference.
The claimants, backed by a former national security adviser, have accused the Prime Minister of wanting to “keep us in the dark” about Russian attacks on British elections and referendums.
It comes after the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) concluded, in its long-delayed report published in July, that ministers had “badly under-estimated the response required to the Russian threat”.
For some reason the Prime Minister seems determined to keep us in the dark about these repeated Russian attacks on our democracy
The document suggested there was no proper investigation into whether there had been successful Russian interference in the Brexit vote in 2016 despite “credible open source commentary” indicating Moscow’s influence in campaigns relating to the Scottish independence referendum two years earlier.
The findings, published in July after being held-up by Boris Johnson’s decision to call the 2019 general election and the slow process of appointing a successor committee, have united a group of parliamentarians who have confirmed they have launched legal action against the Government in what they believe is the first national security challenge of its kind.
The claimants – Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger, Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP, the SNP’s Alyn Smith MP and ex-Conservative Baroness Wheatcroft – are seeking to judicially review what they say has been the Government’s inaction over Russian interference, claiming it has breached its obligation under Article 3, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The protocol requires that free elections are held “under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in their choice of legislature”.
In the heavily-redacted ISC report, the committee said there was “credible open source commentary” indicating Russian influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence vote, but it was only after the “hack and leak” operation in the Democratic National Committee in the US – with the emails made public a month after the 2016 EU referendum – that the Government “belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area”.
Lord Peter Ricketts, national security adviser to former Tory prime minister David Cameron and the ex-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has submitted a witness statement in support of the legal action.
In his statement, he said: “Given the importance of knowing the extent of past Russian interference in assessing the risk for future elections, I do not understand why the Government would choose not to investigate.”
The Government, in its initial reply to the ISC report’s findings, said there was “no evidence” of successful Russian interference in the Brexit vote.
But Ms Lucas said: “The Prime Minister’s casual dismissal of the Russia report is deliberately irresponsible.
“The sovereignty and security of our country, alongside the integrity of our democracy, is at stake, and this Government’s wilfully turning a blind eye cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.”
Lord Strasburger said: ‘For some reason the Prime Minister seems determined to keep us in the dark about these repeated Russian attacks on our democracy.
“Moscow’s blizzard of cleverly disguised disinformation undermines our freedom as a sovereign state to choose our own leaders and set our country’s direction.
“You have to ask why the PM doesn’t want us to know the truth.”
Baroness Wheatcroft said it was “shameful” that ministers had “refused” to voluntarily investigate interference in the country’s electoral system while Mr Smith, MP for Stirling, said the Government had a “case to answer”.
The politicians are working in conjunction with a non-profit organisation, the Citizens, and are represented by Leigh Day solicitors.
“Our clients… are asking the court to step in to ensure that the Government complies with its legal duty to independently investigate credible allegations of Russian interference and to adequately protect future elections from foreign interference,” said Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory.