Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under fire over accusations from lawmakers that the UK government is intentionally delaying the release of a report into Russia’s influence in British politics until after the upcoming election.
The failure of the Prime Minister to approve the publication of the report has sparked outrage from members of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which compiled the report, and opposition lawmakers who accused the government of a coverup.
The chair of the ISC, former attorney general and MP Dominic Grieve, raised the issue in an urgent question to the government in Parliament on Tuesday, demanding an explanation for “the refusal of the Prime Minister to give clearance to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s report on Russia.”
Grieve, who used to be member of the Conservative Party, told Parliament the report was completed in March, thoroughly reviewed by the country’s intelligence agencies, and then sent to Johnson for “final confirmation” on October 17. He added that according to longstanding agreement, the Prime Minister would endeavor to respond within 10 days. Since the report is from the ISC, which has access to classified information, the release of the report must be personally signed off by Johnson.
Foreign office minister Christopher Pincher defended the government’s position on Tuesday and offered no suggestion that the report would be signed off soon, telling Grieve that it was not unusual for reports such as this one to go through “an intensive security review before publication.”
Grieve said the intelligence agencies had indicated that the publication of the report would not damage any of their operational capabilities, and therefore there was no reason to delay it.
“The report has to be laid before parliament when it is sitting,” he said, pointing to the fact that Parliament is set to be dissolved at midnight Wednesday ahead of a crucial general election on December 12.
“If it is not laid before Parliament ceases to sit this evening, it will not be capable of being laid until the committee is reformed, and in 2017 that took nearly six months,” Grieve added.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said the delay was “nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth from the public and from Parliament, and it is an affront to our democracy.”
Thornberry then accused the government of delaying publication for political reasons: “I fear it is because they realize that this report will lead to other questions about the links between Russia and Brexit and with the current leadership of the Tory party, which risks derailing their election campaign.”
Other members of the ISC have also criticized the government’s apparent reluctance to release the report.
“As far as the committee is concerned, this report has been cleared by the intelligence and security agencies, it’s been cleared by the Cabinet Office, and the civil servants and officials saw no reason whatsoever why it should not have been published,” Keith Simpson, a Conservative member of the ISC, told Parliament.
Another Conservative MP who sits on the committee, Richard Benyon, said that the delay in the publishing has allowed some “quite bizarre conspiracy theories” to be circulated. He said it would be “much better to publish what has been written.”
Pincher stuck to the same line — the report is being reviewed — despite the barrage of questions from lawmakers across party lines.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lord Evans of Weardale, who was MI5 director general until 2013, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that if ministers were not prepared to release it, they should explain why.
“In principle, I think it should be released,” he said. “Part of the reason for having an Intelligence and Security Committee is that issues of public concern can be properly considered and the public can be informed through the publication of the reports once they have gone through the security process.”
“If the government have a reason why this should not be published before the election, then I think they should make it very clear what that reason is.”