The ‘Russia Report’ – on Russian interference in British politics – is apparently to be published next week. It was supposed to come out before the 2019 General Election, but has been sat on by the Prime Minister, for various flimsy reasons, until now.
One of the reasons was that the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee, which was supposed to vet it first, hadn’t done so. That’s because the new government hadn’t yet set the Committee up. Then it at last did so (my local MP, by the way, is a member: I must write to her); with Boris Johnson planning to make one of his trusties – the notoriously incompetent Chris Grayling, universally known as ‘Failing Grayling’ – the Chair. You can guess why. Then – yesterday – the newly-convened Committee instead elected Julian Lewis, another Tory, but one who knows something about security issues, as its Chair; as it was entitled to do. He was immediately expelled from the Conservative Party by Johnson, in what looks like an almost Trumpian fit of pique. So it appears that the Committee now will be issuing the ‘Russia Report’, at least in some form; how heavily ‘redacted’ we can’t know.
The main questions we all hope the Report will answer concern Russian interference – official or otherwise – in the Brexit Referendum of 2016, and in the General Election of December 2019. In both cases the interference is supposed to have been designed to favour the Brexit side of the argument, and the party that was seen to be pushing to break up the European Union, which of course has been a Russian – and before that a Soviet – ambition for years. We already know that both the Conservative Party and the Brexit movement have received large donations from rich Russians. Beyond that, it’s mainly speculation at present.
The very prospect of the Report’s publication, however, seems to have put the wind up the government. Hence the play it made yesterday, reported in the papers this morning, of (a) Russians trying to steal coronavirus research from us; and (b) Labour’s evidence of American designs against our NHS having been secured originally by Russian hackers (but then published more widely). All this is supposed to imply that it’s Labour who are conspiring with the Russians, thus taking us back to an old Cold War trope. Will it work? We’ll see.
With regard to the research hacking: personally I can’t see what is terribly wrong with that, so long as Russia doesn’t intend to use a newly-discovered Covid-19 vaccine for the exclusive benefit of its own people alone. (That’s what Trump is planning, if America gets there first.) The more openness there is in this area, the better.
On a personal note: I’ve at last found a way to escape from my coronavirus confinement back to Sweden at the end of next week. It involves a 200-mile ride by taxi and then Ryanair, which I’ve avoided in the past out of preference and principle; but as Kajsa says, this is an emergency. If things in Britain (or England, rather) deteriorate any further, I may not come back.