We know Russia interfered with our democratic processes but Boris Johnson simply isn’t interested

Caroline Lucas
·4 min read
Boris Johnson dismissed concerns about Russian interference in elections as the moaning of 'Islington remainers'  (AP)
Boris Johnson dismissed concerns about Russian interference in elections as the moaning of 'Islington remainers' (AP)

Complacency has been the name of the game for this government, whether it’s over coronavirus, Brexit preparedness or the “world beating” nature of government schemes, which usually turn out to be anything but. Â

Yet one area where this complacency has attracted surprisingly little challenge is the government’s incurious assumption about the integrity of our democratic processes – in spite of evidence that they are being deliberately undermined.  

Thanks to the Russia Report, published at last in July after sitting on the prime minister’s desk for months, we now know that the Kremlin has been interfering in, and attempting to manipulate, our democracy and electoral processes since at least the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Â

The foundations of our political system were being targeted in a hostile way by a foreign government when votes were being cast which would determine this country’s future for years to come. It’s hard to think of a more serious issue for our democracy – and it’s why I am part of a cross-party legal challenge to the government’s inaction.

We have had four major votes in that time, including the Brexit referendum and two general elections. The Russia Report found “credible” evidence that Moscow had tried to influence the referendum in Scotland. It could not establish if there was meddling in the Brexit referendum, too, because the government and security agencies declined to look for evidence.

How much the Kremlin and its army of cyber hackers succeeded in influencing the outcome of those votes is beside the point. They were trying, and government ministers and intelligence agencies knew they were trying. In 2017, in a keynote speech, the previous prime minister, Theresa May, openly accused Russia of “meddling in elections” and attempting “to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”. Â

Yet somehow there has been no serious investigation into how much impact this might have had on our democracy, and on those key votes. As one member of the Intelligence and Security Committee said, it was as if “no one wanted to know if there was interference”. Even a former UK ambassador to Moscow said the failure to investigate was “inexcusable”.  

Having been caught napping once, you’d expect the government would want to hold some kind of inquiry, turning over every stone to see how interference could have been going on under our noses, whether anyone knew and looked the other way, and what needs to be done to protect our democratic institutions in the future.  

Instead, the Russia Report has just been shelved – marked “no further action necessary”. As far as the prime minister is concerned, there’s nothing more to see, so no point in looking. He has dismissed the reactions of politicians, diplomats and others as the moaning of “Islington remainers”. 

The toxic legacy of Brexit and the way it has divided our country, is shaping even the response to this report, despite its significance for our democracy.

But this is not about Brexit or overturning the Scottish or EU referendum results. This is about the integrity of our elections, and whether the systems and rules we have in place are robust enough to withstand the deliberate efforts of outside forces to undermine them. It should be a top priority for any democratic politician or leader.  

Yet somehow, Boris Johnson just isn’t interested, despite acknowledging in the House of Commons the “significant public interest in the issues it raises”. Â

His “move on, nothing more to see” attitude will not wash. His government has already done more than most to undermine public trust – just listen to the former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd’s excoriating attack in the House of Lords. In 47 years in Parliament, she said, she had “never seen trust in a government fall so far and so fast”.

Collapsing trust in a government is one thing, the loss of trust in our democratic system is another and it is much more serious. We need a comprehensive, independent investigation into Russian meddling. We need to understand and learn from what happened in order to ensure that elections are free, fair and beyond manipulation by foreign governments.

The government is refusing to order this inquiry. That is why I and other MPs, together with a non-profit organisation, All the Citizens, are seeking a judicial review of the prime minister’s inaction. We want to see a comprehensive, independent inquiry to examine the weaknesses in our democratic system, not so past votes can be re-run but so we understand what needs to be done to shore up the foundations of our democracy.  

If the health and robustness of our democracy isn’t worth investigating and protecting, I don’t know what is.  

Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion

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