In November 2019, Boris Johnson blocked the publication of a report into alleged Russian interference in UK democratic politics, including the 2016 EU referendum. Nearly two months later, he still has not released this report, nor has he established any Select Committees to oversee the government’s work. This is not the result of incompetence. Instead, the Prime Minister appears to be deliberately delaying the release of the report because it contains allegations which could potentially destroy his government.
Obviously, publishing such a sensitive report will inevitably take time because it needs to obtain a security clearance. Typically, it takes about six weeks for a report of this nature to be given the green light for publication. This would normally have been a satisfactory explanation for the delay. However, it has been claimed that the document had already been cleared by intelligence officials in a process that began back in March 2019 and that Johnson had initially received the dossier on the 17th of October. Under government protocol, Johnson should have published the report within ten days of receiving it or else provide an explanation as to why it could not be published. He did neither of these things. Understandably, many people would argue that this initial refusal to publish the report was done purely to ensure that the Conservatives did not lose votes in the 2019 general election. However, it is possible to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt on this particular occasion. This is because allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections had created a great deal of anxiety among the British public and Johnson may not have wanted to add to these fears by releasing a report which would make the situation even more serious than it already was just before an election.
Now, the election is over and Johnson holds a comfortable 80-seat majority in parliament. He should therefore be in a position to publish the report into Russian electoral interference. However, in order to release the report, a new Intelligence and Security Select Committee (ISC) must be established in Parliament and Mr. Johnson still has not done this. The delay would be understandable if the government had a hung parliament or a small majority because they would need to undertake a considerable amount of negotiation with opposition parties in order to establish Select Committees, but this is obviously not the case for Mr Johnson. In response to the criticism which this has prompted, Johnson has said that the report will be out “in a matter of weeks”. However, this claim is unconvincing and ‘The New European’ has even claimed that the publication of the report on Russian interference is “months, not weeks away.'' Is this delay down to incompetence on Johnson’s part? If not, what exactly is he hiding?
To answer this first question, the delayed release of the Russia report is not down to incompetence. Instead, Johnson appears to be trying to prevent its publication in order to avoid some uncomfortable accusations that may come his way after it is released. To answer the second part of the question, it seems as though Johnson is trying to hide three things. Firstly, that the Russians may be using their connections within British political parties to gain more influence. For example, Sergey Nalobin (a senior Russian diplomat accused of espionage) allegedly spent five years in London fraternising with several high-ranking Conservatives, including Johnson. He may even have established a pro-Kremlin Conservative Parliamentary group (“Conservative Friends of Russia”) as a result of this. Secondly, that Russian money may be quietly slipping in to the Conservative Party through events like summer party auctions. Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of the former Russian deputy finance minister, allegedly paid £160,000 to play tennis with Cameron and Johnson at one such event. Finally, that nine Russian oligarchs (one of which is apparently good friends with Mr Johnson) are alleged donors to the Conservative Party. It must be stressed that none of these allegations have been proven to be true. Nevertheless, if they were to come to light in an official government report; they would cast serious doubt upon the legitimacy of the current government. This might explain why Johnson seems very keen to keep it under wraps.
Overall, the delay behind the establishment of Select Committees and the subsequent delayed release of the Russia report do not appear to be due to incompetence, administrative difficulties or security concerns. Instead, the Prime Minister appears to be very concerned. He seems to be worried that if the report comes out in its current form that the accusations it contains could potentially bring down the government, regardless of whether they are true or not. The delay is a matter of strategy, not stupidity.
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