In Brief

MPs call for investigation into Russian influence on Brexit

Cross-party committee says UK government has not done enough to probe effect on referendum result

The Government has a duty to launch an official inquiry into whether Russia had a role in influencing voters in the EU referendum, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.

Following an 18-month inquiry, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published a scathing report on disinformation and fake news that looks at “the broad range of harms, including voter manipulation, which can be conducted online”, says Sky News.

The MPs conclude that the Government should launch an independent investigation into past elections – including the 2017 general election and 2016 EU referendum – “to explore what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons learnt for future elections and referenda”.

The report cites a criminal complaint filed by the FBI last September against a Russian national accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election and the 2018 midterms. According to The Guardian, the complaint “accuses the Russian of participating in Project Lakhta, a campaign to propagate distrust of political candidates in elections as well as Western democracy more generally”.

The committee report “turns its fire” on Prime Minister Theresa May for failing to investigate the effect of such practices on the Brexit referendum result, The Independent adds.

The MPs note that that while the Government “has been very ready to accept the evidence of Russian activity in the Skripal case”, it has been “reluctant to accept evidence” of activity influencing the Brexit vote.

“No wide-ranging investigation has taken place, despite the main Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, being found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law,” says the newspaper.

The Government has insisted previously that it “has not seen evidence of successful use of disinformation by foreign actors, including Russia, to influence UK democratic processes”.

But Tory MP and committee chair Damian Collins warned: “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day.

“Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.”

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