It is no longer tenable for the British Government to maintain its silence over Kremlin subversion of our democracy and the British links being exposed by the U.S. investigation into Russian interference in the American Presidential election.
The documents published on Monday by the American Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert Mueller, revealed that a British-based Maltese academic, Professor Mifsud, apparently acted as a contact point between the Russians and George Papadopoulos, a member of Trump’s campaign team, who has admitted lying to the FBI about his dealings with the Kremlin.
These latest revelations follow the weekend’s news that Britain’s elections regulator, the Electoral Commission, reported Ukip to the Metropolitan Police for receiving impermissible donations in the run-up to the EU Referendum. We already knew that the Electoral Commission has fined the DUP for accepting impermissible donations and that it has several other live investigations.
There is significant and growing public concern about foreign interference in our democracy in general and the potential role of dark money in the EU Referendum in particular. This is the subject of a major judicial and congressional investigation in the United States. There is clear and growing evidence that the tangled web of attempted subversion and money included Britain. Yet, from the outset, the British Government has remained totally silent on all of this. The small number of British parliamentarians and journalists who have been asking questions have met with stonewalling and obfuscation.
Much of the central evidence being discovered by the Mueller investigation was gathered by the British intelligence agencies. An ex-MI6 officer, Chris Steele, drafted the original dossier that was the catalyst for this whole inquiry. It is inconceivable to me, as a former Minister responsible for the intelligence services, that UK Ministers do not know much more than they are letting on. More details with more relevance to the UK will inevitably be unearthed by the Mueller inquiry.
It would be in the British Goverment’s own interests to come clean now on what it knows, rather than allow it to emerge drip drip from another country’s political and judicial processes.
It is welcome that the Culture Select Committeee has announced an inquiry into Russian generated and funded social media interference in the EU Referendum. I expect the Foreign Affairs Committee and Intelligence and Security Committee (once it is finally reconstituted) to follow up with their own inquiries. But these do not have the power of their American equivalents, to demand and hear evidence under oath, for example, and are in danger of being overtaken by the Mueller investigation anyway.
It would be far better and quicker for the Government to tell us what it knows now or announce its own judge led inquiry. Nigel Farage, who is at the centre of some of the rumours and allegations swirling around, has even called for this himself, in the hope, one supposes, of putting the rumours to rest. A petition calling for an inquiry is about to pass the number of signatures it needs to force a Goverernment response.
Whatever the Government does or doesn’t do, those of us asking questions are not going away. This is about the security and integrity of our democracy and the biggest and most fateful decision in modern British history, with repercussions for decades to come.
Ben Bradshaw is the Labour MP for Exeter