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Cross-party group of MPs and peers to challenge PM over Russia report

·3 min read

A cross-party group of MPs and peers will ask the High Court to give the go-ahead for a legal challenge against the Government over its alleged failure to investigate possible Russian interference in UK elections.

Six parliamentarians claim Boris Johnson unlawfully failed to act following a report they say found “credible evidence” of attempts to “interfere with the UK’s electoral processes from at least the time of the EU referendum in 2016”.

Last July, a report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found the Government should have recognised the threat that Russia would seek to influence voters “as early as 2014”, when a referendum on Scottish independence was held.

The Government “was slow to recognise the existence of the threat” until after the “hack and leak” operation against the Democratic National Committee in the US, meaning it “did not take action” in 2016, the ISC found.

Following publication of the report, Mr Johnson said there was “no country in the Western world that is more vigilant in protecting the interests of this country or the international community from Russian interference”.

But six MPs and peers – including Labour MP Chris Bryant, Green MP Caroline Lucas and former Conservative peer Baroness Wheatcroft – argue his decision to not direct an independent investigation into possible Russian interference is unlawful.

The case is believed to be the first time that sitting MPs or peers have taken legal action against the Government on the grounds of national security.

Watch: New Liberal Democrat MP arrives in Westminster with warning to Tory Blue Wall

In their written case, the claimants point to comments made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last year, who said it was “almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election”.

They argue that “the Government’s finding that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election underlines the need for a much broader investigation into Russian interference in UK democratic processes”.

The six, supported by campaign group The Citizens, which has raised just over £41,000 to fund the legal challenge, also argue Mr Johnson has unlawfully failed to establish a public inquiry.

At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday, the claimants will ask Mr Justice Swift to grant permission for a full hearing of their case later this year.

Labour MP Chris Bryant
Labour MP Chris Bryant (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency before the hearing, Mr Bryant said the Government’s refusal to investigate attempts at the “undermining of our democratic system” by the Russian state was “an act of wilful stupidity”.

He said the ISC “has found that there is significant evidence that this has gone on, but the Government pointedly refuses to investigate”.

Mr Bryant accused successive Conservative governments of having “refused to be open and transparent”, adding: “You just start to get suspicious that this is because there is just too much Russian money swilling around in the pot.”

He told PA: “Until we sort all of this out, our democratic system is going to continue to be the soft underbelly for corrupt and dodgy individuals and states around the world.”

The hearing before Mr Justice Swift begins at 11.30am.

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