By Simon Basketter
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Russia, Britain and the money connection

This article is over 3 years, 10 months old
Issue 2714
Johnson is likely to be embarrassed by the report findings (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

The Russians are coming.

A report on alleged Russian interference in British politics was finally published on Tuesday this week.

Much of the media coverage focused on the government’s failure to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 Brexit vote.

But the report, carried out by parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC), also highlighted links with the Russian rich.

Even his very establishment body said, “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal.

“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,” it said.

To distract attention, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, conveniently also announced that the government had concluded that a leak of sensitive documents was part of a Russian interference operation.

Intelligence officials launched a probe after the documents were read out in the run-up to Johnson’s election victory by the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn said the documents revealed the NHS would be “up for sale” by a Tory government in future trade negotiations with the US.


The ISC’s move to publish the Russia report follows a row over the appointment of MP Julian Lewis as its new chair. Lewis won the position over Downing Street’s preferred candidate, the former transport secretary Chris Grayling.

He only declared his interest in standing as head of the committee hours before the vote. Lewis was then kicked out of the Tory party “for working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.

A Conservative spokesperson added, “There are consequences for duplicity.”

The Tories have worked closely with Russian money to escalate a process started by Tony Blair and Labour to open up the fancier bits of London as tax free bolt holes for passing oligarchs.

This visa scheme opened a lucrative line in political donations and kept Chelsea estate agents in business. It also opened the door to the machinations of the Russian government.

President Vladimir Putin has thrown some weight behind Trump in the US and Eurosceptic right wingers here. British spooks have tended to take a more hostile attitude to Russian interference than Tory politicians.

This is partially because a Russian threat still justifies their existence and partially simply because for the Tories being open for business means they will take bribes off anyone.


Some journalists rather easily take what British “security sources” tell them.

So there is tendency to exaggerate the effectiveness of the Russian money and social media disruption.

Money was clearly paid but whether anything was achieved by the spending it is another matter.

People didn’t vote to leave the European Union because of the Kremlin.

The Tories took Russian money when they were for Remain as well as when they were for Brexit.

But for all the spin Johnson didn’t want to see the report published and hopefully it will cause him more problems than embarrassment.

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