The British government is refusing to publish a report examining Russian interference in its democratic process, despite widespread calls for its release before the December general election. The move is fueling suspicions that the details could be damaging for the ruling Conservative party.
The report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was completed in March and handed to the prime minister for approval on Oct. 17. The government insists the report is still awaiting security service approval, but the head of the committee that wrote the report says it is ready for publication.
The report examines widespread allegations that Moscow sought to interfere in British democracy, including the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, and the 2017 general election.
“In the absence of the report, because of that delay, rumor and suspicion circulate,” said Andrew Foxall, a Russia analyst at The Henry Jackson Society.
The suspicion is that the report could highlight links between Russia and the ruling Conservatives, said Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform in London.
“That, I think, says there is something in there that the government feels it would be embarrassed by in an electoral context,” he said. “And I think that’s rather dangerous for our democracy.”
But why would Russia seek to promote Britain’s EU exit?
“Disruption,” Bond said. “So the more that you can disrupt your adversaries, the stronger you are in relative terms. Once the U.K. leaves the table in the EU, that’s one strong, persuasive voice in favor of the continuation of sanctions gone.”
Conservatives dismiss claims the findings could be embarrassing.
Foreign Office Minister Christopher Pincher told lawmakers last week that “there is no evidence to suggest that Russia or the Kremlin has successfully engaged in interference in our electoral processes.”
The government maintains the report is awaiting security clearance. But the head of the committee that wrote it, Dominic Grieve, said it has already been cleared. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry of the opposition Labour party told parliament the delay is a conspiracy.
“This is nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth from the public and from parliament and it is an affront to our democracy,” Thornberry said.
Reports of previous links
There are reports of past links between the Conservatives and the Kremlin, noted analyst Foxall.
“A Kremlin-backed organization called Conservative Friends of Russia was created in 2012 with the help of an operative from the Russian Embassy here in London. It has since become clear that that operative is likely a member of the FSB (Federal Security Service). That organization, that group, gained significant support amongst high profile Tories, members of the Conservative party but collapsed in scandal after it released kompromat, which is to say compromising material, on a Labour MP, Chris Bryant.”
In the United States, the Robert Mueller investigation concluded earlier this year that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Former Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton – who lost to Donald Trump – this week questioned the British government’s decision during a visit to London.
“I’m dumbfounded that this government won’t release the report about Russian influence because every person who votes in the country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” Clinton told the BBC.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed suspicions that the report is damaging to his party and says it will be published after the Dec. 12 election.