Boris Johnson today faced spiralling pressure to publish a report on alleged Russian influence in British politics.
Cabinet minister Rishi Sunak this morning sought to defend the decision not to publish the analysis by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, arguing that more time was needed for the report to go through the correct Whitehall process.
However, his explanation was shot down by Dominic Grieve, who chaired the ISC before Parliament was dissolved for the December 12 general election.
The former attorney general said Mr Sunak’s explanation was “completely inaccurate, misleading and wrong” and stressed the report had already been cleared by the intelligence agencies.
Hillary Clinton intervened in the row, criticising the failure to publish it as “inexplicable and shameful”.
In addition Britain’s electoral watchdog today appealed to whoever wins the election to tighten the law to stop foreign powers being able to sway elections in the UK.
“We stand ready to work with the UK Government and security services, and we call on the next government and all political parties to ensure the law is changed in a new parliament to better protect our elections from foreign interference,” an Electoral Commission spokeswoman said.
The Commission added that it had not been informed by the security services that elections in the UK or the EU referendum were compromised by foreign interference.
The ISC document is a wide-ranging report into the intelligence and security threat that Russia allegedly poses to the UK, and includes a section on possible Russian influence in elections and the risk of subversion of democracy and democratic processes.
It is understood the report started going through the Whitehall process ahead of publication in late March and was cleared by the intelligence and security agencies and the National Security Secretariat in early to mid-October.
It still needed to be signed off by the Prime Minister, which the committee would have expected to take less than 10 days.
Mrs Clinton, the former Democratic US presidential candidate, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s outrageous that your Government won’t release a report about Russian influence inside the UK. Every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens.”
US intelligence agencies claim Russia sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election through hacking and spreading propaganda, aimed at helping Mrs Clinton’s rival Donald Trump.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any meddling and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.
The Government says it has not seen evidence of “successful” Russian interference in UK elections or the 2016 vote to leave the EU.
Mr Sunak, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the report was received towards the end of October.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “It is absolutely normal that reports like this go through a period of vetting which does take several weeks to make sure that they are safe or there are bits that need to be redacted.”