Why isn’t Russian interference in the Brexit referendum being investigated?

If the allegations are true, the Brexit vote would be utterly invalidated.

It is becoming ever clearer that the process by which the country voted to leave the EU was far from democratic. We must take back control from those who distorted the result of the EU referendum

To many who support Brexit, the European referendum was the greatest exercise in democracy in the whole history of the United Kingdom.

On just one day, a decision to leave the EU was taken by over 17 million people; a decision David Davis trumpeted as ‘the biggest mandate that’s ever been given to a government by the British people.’

But now the legitimacy of the referendum result is beginning to crumble.

There were of course the bundle of deceitful promises for which people voted, of which the most flagrant and often quoted was the £350m for the NHS.

But in recent weeks a far more sinister question mark hangs over the result: that of interference by the Kremlin in the referendum campaign.

It has become clear that Russian attempts to subvert democracy did not originate with the US presidential election but that the techniques used successfully then were honed during the Brexit referendum campaign.

In the US there is a full-scale FBI investigation into Kremlin meddling but in the UK almost nothing has taken place. We appear to be leaving the back door to our democratic processes open and Russian intelligence has walked right in.

Although Carole Cadwalladr and other online journalists have been publishing evidence for some time, the story really only broke when the Prime Minister warned of Russia ‘weaponising’ information and planting ‘fake stories and photoshopped images’ in a recent speech at Mansion House.

What Theresa May and other commentators appear to have deliberately omitted was any connection with the Brexit campaign.

But that connection is becoming ever harder to avoid. There is mounting evidence of links between British politicians and the Russian government.

We now know there were over 156,000 Russian-based Twitter accounts engaged in a concerted campaign to support the Leave side.

The Electoral Commission has also launched an investigation into whether donations and loans from Brexit campaigner Arron Banks and one of his companies broke campaign finance rules in the run-up to the EU referendum.

Given the alleged links between senior Conservatives, Conservative friends of Russia, and the very highest levels of the Tory government – and of course the powerful influence of Russian oligarchs in London – it comes as no surprise that there has been little appetite by the government to investigate further.

But it is truly shocking that the subversion of our democracy by a foreign power should have been treated so lightly.

The European Union has been more active against Russian propaganda, setting up an East StratCom taskforce, whose work has been largely focused on documenting what disinformation looks like and debunking myths spread to confuse citizens. It is also supporting genuine journalism in the former Soviet bloc.

Because the EU referendum and the decision to leave the EU has been one of the most divisive and destructive our nation has ever experienced, it is right that any and every effort possible be taken to investigate allegations of corruption and interference.

For my part I have asked the StratCom taskforce to commence investigations into Kremlin involvement in the EU referendum campaign and asked our own House of Commons Library to clarify who is our equivalent to the FBI and why they have not acted.

I have also initiated a cross-Party group of MEPs to raise concerns with the European Commission about Russian influence in the referendum campaign (our letter to the EU Commission is here).

Green, Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative MEPs have jointly signed a letter to the Commission in which we have asked how much they know, and about the techniques used; whether they consider such interference an attempt by the Kremlin to attack and destabilise the EU; and whether they will use EU Agencies to investigate the allegations.

Russian influence casts a long shadow over the Brexit result. It is therefore more essential than ever that the British public are provided another opportunity to vote to accept the deal negotiated by the government or choose to remain in the EU.

The idea of a ‘ratification referendum’ on the final deal agreed between the EU and the UK has long been Green Party policy.

However, last weekend, support for such a referendum was also agreed by the European Green Party at their conference in Sweden.

We simply cannot let arguments about ‘largest ever mandate’ and the ‘will of the people’ steamroller our democracy. It is time to take back control from a corrupt gang of Brexiteers.

Molly Scott Cato is MEP for the South West and Green Party speaker on Brexit. She tweets here. 

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