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Russia report says UK took its ‘eye off the ball’ on meddling


British security services were distracted by the post 9/11 terrorist threat and didn’t give sufficient priority to Russia’s attempts to gain influence in the UK, which Moscow regarded as one of its top intelligence targets, the UK parliament’s cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee said.

UK politicians allowed rich Russians with deep ties to the Kremlin to gain influence and access in London, using it as a “laundromat” for illicit funds. Cultural institutions, PR firms, political groups and even real-estate agents became unwitting stooges of the Russian state, the report says.

“Russian influence in the UK is the new normal,” the report concludes. “Successive governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures,” the committee said in a press release accompanying the report.

The findings are the result of an eight-month investigation into Russia’s influence in UK politics and public life. The report was delayed when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a general election as it was being completed. The committee has been critical of the delay in publication.

Among the committee’s expert witnesses were former MI6 spy Christopher Steele, author of the explosive Trump-Russia dossier that painted a picture of widespread conspiracy of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, a document that Trump has dismissed as “phony” and full of lies.

Russian influence on Brexit

In one key section of the report, dealing with the Brexit referendum, the British government is accused of failing to conduct a thorough inquiry into allegations of a Kremlin-sponsored influence campaign.

Companies warn 'huge gamble' on Brexit could add to Britain's growing jobs crisis

“We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference,” the report says, redacting a clause that followed. “This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public.”

The report said that British intelligence agencies didn’t see the security of UK voting process as part of their role because they feared the issue was a “hot potato.” One of the members of the committee, Stewart Hosie, told reporters in a press briefing that the government was afraid of what such an investigation might show.

In an interview with CNN, the committee’s former chair, Dominic Grieve, said that the issue of Russian meddling in the Brexit vote had been intentionally “glossed over.”

“There was no government desire to look at it and it hasn’t looked at it,” said Grieve, who chaired the committee when it carried out the investigation. He added that it “troubled” the committee that there was so little intelligence on Russia’s role in the vote.

“Because it seems to me that it was a very significant democratic event, that there is now plenty of evidence of Russian interference in democratic processes, and it there ought really to be a proper focus on whether it happened in this particular case or not.”

The committee called on the UK intelligence community to produce and make public an assessment Russia’s role in the Brexit referendum.

In its response, the UK government rejected the committee’s calls for such a probe, saying it received regular updates of all threats considered hostile state activities. “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU Referendum,” the statement said.

“Where 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.”

The report also contains a redacted section on whether Moscow attempted to interfere with the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, referring to “credible open source commentary” related to “what some commentators have described as potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process.”

But the next sentence trails off into a string of asterisks showing the report has been redacted: “We note that — almost five years on — ***.”

Accusation hurled against Johnson

The document, with a redacted annex, was based on interviews behind closed doors with experts and members of the country’s intelligence community. Johnson was accused of blocking its publication ahead of last year’s general election, in which his Conservative Party won a landslide victory.

Opposition politicians accused the government of a cover-up, saying it could raise awkward questions about the validity of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and expose the alleged Russian connections of some in the ruling Conservative party.

Opening the press conference that launched the report’s publication, Kevan Jones, a Labour MP who sat on the committee under its previous chairmanship, said that the report’s delay was because Johnson failed give his permission for the report to be published in the standard 10 days after its submission to Downing Street.

Various explanations offered by the government for the report’s delay were “categorically not true,” he said. The delay had “fueled speculation” around what the report might say about Russian involvement in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Many of Johnson’s team inside Downing Street worked on the victorious Vote Leave team, the official Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum, including his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings. Since the referendum there have been numerous accusations that the Vote Leave campaign, which was fronted by Johnson and contained many members of his current cabinet and political advisers, misled the public on a range of subject from the economic realities of Brexit to immigration. The delay of the report and subsequent speculation that it contained a smoking gun tying Brexit to Russia would therefore have been potentially damaging to many of the most senior figures in the government.



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‘The ball is in the UK’s court,’ EU’s #Brexit negotiator says



Britain must send “clear signals” that it wants to seal a deal with the European Union on their relationship after Brexit, the bloc’s chief negotiator said ahead of more talks with London, adding a deal was still possible before the end of the year, write Gabriela Baczynska and Jan Strupczewski.

Michel Barnier (pictured) said Britain had so far not engaged with tentative openings floated by the EU side on state aid and fisheries in the previous negotiating rounds, which have mostly been held on video calls due to coronavirus safety restrictions.

“The ball is in the UK’s court,” Barnier told an online seminar on Wednesday. “I believe that the deal is still possible.”

He said he was “disappointed” with Britain’s refusal to negotiate on foreign policy and defence but that he was open to finding a “margin of flexibility” on thus-far conflicting EU and UK positions on fishing and the state aid fair play guarantees.

“As well as with fisheries and governance, we are ready to work on landing zones, respecting the mandate of the EU,” he said when asked how far the bloc could go towards Britain on the so-called level playing field provisions of fair competition.

They are among the chief obstacles to agreeing a new relationship between the world’s largest trading bloc and the world’s fifth-largest economy. Britain left the EU last January and its standstill transition period ends at the end of 2020.

Barnier said “the moment of truth” would come in October when the negotiating teams must finalize a draft deal if it is to be ratified by all the 27 EU member states in time for 2021.

Should talks fail, Barnier said the UK would be more severely affected than the EU if trade quotas and tariffs kick in, meaning that the bloc would not seal a deal at any cost.

“The level playing field is not for sale. It is a core part of the our trade model and we refuse to compromise to benefit the British economy,” he said.

Barnier added that, while Britain refused to sign up to the level playing field commitments in exchange for access to the single market, it was keen to retain very close ties on financial services and the electricity market.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants a narrower trade deal with the EU, but the bloc is pushing for an alliance that would cover transport, fisheries, security and other areas.

Barnier named nuclear co-operation and internal security as areas where progress had been made but said agreeing a role for the bloc’s top court and sealing Britain’s commitments to the European Convention of Human Rights were still missing.

He pressed Britain to advance preparations for the sensitive Irish frontier as agreed under the EU-UK divorce deal last year.

London and the bloc have agreed to intensify negotiations, with contacts planned every week until the end of July and resuming on 17 August after a summer break.



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Liam Payne turns fan as he watches Harry Styles on stage at Jingle Bell Ball



Harry Styles performs on stage during day one of Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball (Isabel Infantes)
Harry Styles performs on stage during day one of Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball (Isabel Infantes)

Liam Payne watched his ex-bandmate Harry Styles perform at Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball.

The singer, 26, showed his support for his former One Direction bandmate as Styles, 25, sang tracks including What Makes You Beautiful.

Earlier, Payne opened the show at London’s O2 Arena.

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Liam Payne at the Jingle Bell Ball (Capital/Instagram Stories)

With his girlfriend, Maya Henry, he then watched Styles, who performed wearing an open chested jumpsuit.

Rita Ora, who performed on stage, was also in the audience.

Stormzy was also on the bill and later could be seen chatting to Styles saying, “We’ve got to link up when you’re ready.”

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Rita Ora performs on stage during day one of Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Earlier, Payne told Capital’s Will Manning: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harry perform on his own before live, which I think will be quite a nostalgic moment, so I think might have to stick around for that.”

The event continues on Sunday with Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Anne-Marie, Mabel and Sigala among the names on the bill.

The weekend line-up also includes The Script, Jax Jones and AJ Tracey.

More information is at Capitalfm.com.

PA Media






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