Saturday April 20, 2024

UK govt should probe any Russian interference in 2016 Brexit referendum: parliamentary report

Oligarchs with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin used their wealth for "extending patronage and building influence"

July 22, 2020
The flag of the United Kingdom and the flag of European Union are displayed prior to the meeting between UK Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on September 20, 2019, in Brussels. — AFP

LONDON: The British government should properly investigate any Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum after failing to look into it despite past evidence of Kremlin meddling, a parliamentary report said Tuesday.

It said oligarchs with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin used their wealth for "extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment".

"There should have been assessment of Russian interference in the referendum. And there must now be one, and the public must be told the results of that assessment," intelligence and security committee member Kevan Jones said.

The report said it could not point to specific evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 vote on Britain's EU membership and a 2014 poll on Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom, which the "no" camp won by 55% to 45%.

But Jones said this happened because the UK government "actively avoided asking the question".

"No one wanted to touch it with a 10-foot pole," Jones said.

"In brief, Russian influence in the UK is 'the new normal', and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth," the report said.

"This level of integration — in 'Londongrad' in particular — means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation."

"Londongrad" is widely viewed as a central part of London that is a haven for Russian oligarchs, who invest in luxury properties in prestigious areas such as Chelsea.

The report's release has been delayed for months, leading to accusations for the opposition that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to suppress it.

He came to head the government a year ago, after replacing his Conservative party predecessor Theresa May, who became prime minister immediately after the Brexit vote.