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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

How embarrassing is the delayed Russia report for the Tories?

While the commentariat waits with bated breath for the publication of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian infiltration in the UK, the Guardian has been digging about to find out what might be in it.

They have unearthed secret evidence to MPs from the former spy Christopher Steele, which alleges that Boris Johnson and Theresa May ignored claims the Kremlin had a “likely hold” over Donald Trump and may have covertly funded Brexit:

In testimony to MPs, the MI6 veteran accused the government led by May and in which Johnson was foreign secretary for two years of turning a blind eye to allegations about Trump because they were afraid of offending the US president.

Steele first presented a dossier about Trump to senior UK intelligence figures in late 2016, who he says took it seriously at first. But, he writes, “on reaching top political decision-makers, a blanket appeared to be thrown over it”.

“No inquiries were made or actions taken thereafter on the substance of the intelligence in the dossier by HMG [Her Majesty’s government],” Steele says in the critical document.

The allegation is contained in a short summary of a larger file of information presented in August 2018 by Steele to parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC), inquiring into Kremlin infiltration into British politics and public life.

Steele accuses May’s government of selling British interests short by not taking matters further: “In this case, political considerations seemed to outweigh national security interests. If so, in my view, HMG made a serious mistake in balancing matters of strategic importance to our country.”

The Russia expert concluded: “A prospective trade deal should never be allowed to eclipse considerations of national security.”

The paper says that Steele’s summary evidence is likely to raise concerns that Downing Street may have suppressed the ISC’s final Russia report to avoid embarrassing questions in the run-up to the election, and afterwards, as Britain left the EU, although No 10 has consistently denied that is the case.

These include whether Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum in support of Brexit and whether Vladimir Putin holds compromising information on Trump, Johnson’s ally:

“My understanding, arising partly from personal experience with the ‘Trump-Russia dossier’, is that this government perhaps more than its predecessors is reluctant to see (or act upon) intelligence on Russian activities when this presents difficult wider political implications,” Steele writes in his testimony to MPs.

“Examples of this include reporting on the Kremlin’s likely hold over President Trump and his family/administration and indications of Russian interference in and clandestine funding of the Brexit referendum.”

The paper adds that Steele’s confidential testimony is revealed for the first time in a book by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West, to be published next week and which will be worth reading.

The question for now though, is how much of his testimony is reflected in the suppressed report. did the committee draw similar conclusions, and if so, is this the reason why the government are refusing to allow the report to be published?
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