The Russia report of the intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) released today claims that Russian money was probably used to buy influence in British politics. It claims that the UK government has failed to address the problem of foreign state interference in the democratic process and that due to buying influence there was in effect a ‘reputational laundromat’. Moreover it suggests that it is highly likely that this money influenced the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote.
For those who remember the vote, it was close and, if foreign interference could be proved, then the outcome would be technically invalid. The ISC could not prove the vote was influenced; however the absence of any investigation by the government is surely no coincidence. The Russia report was available last October, well ahead of the December election, but was not released. It has surfaced because the new ISC has decided it is in the public interest. Would it have seen the light of day if Chris Grayling has been appointed ISC chair last week instead of Julian Lewis? I doubt it.
The ISC report (http://isc.independent.gov.uk ) provoked a very prompt written response from the government that suggests from the moment Julian Lewis was elected chair of the ISC it was in ‘damage limitation’ mode. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/902342/HMG_Russia_Response_web_accessible.pdf This is ‘reputation protection’ as distinct from ‘reputation laundromat’ mentioned in the report.
The ISC report confirms what we already know, money buys influence and, if you don’t check carefully where the money comes from, then you are cavalier about where your loyalties lie, and also where truth lies. The laundromat cleans dirty money and turns it into political lobbying. The ISC report finds that money buys influence – it might also have found, had its remit been extended, that bears defecate in the woods or that the pope is a catholic.
Reputation is ultimately a perception held my others about your character, washing it clean might fool some of the people. If you follow the money you find the source of the influence: is it really a benign influence you would trust or does it have some ulterior motive? Look at what Guy Verhofstadt said in a tweet: ‘Brexit has always been a gift to Putin because it weakened the EU and left Britain divided, isolated. The Russia report shows just many questions remain unanswered’.
Maybe Britain didn’t really vote to leave the EU in 2016 and for the last four years we’ve been arguing about 1.3 million ‘Leave’ voters who were either bought or duped!