News | Published July 22 2020

More stringent security laws considered following Russia report

The government is weighing up strengthening security laws after a report by MPs suggested that it has “badly underestimated” the threat of Russian interference in the UK.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that the government was considering a new law which would require foreign agents to register in the UK.

Shapps told the BBC: "There's more we may need to do as a country and that's why we're looking at additional powers."

These new powers may be “modelled” on laws in place in the US and Australia according to Shapps, which require foreign agents to register in those countries.

The government is likely to face scrutiny in the Commons on Wednesday, amid calls for further action to crackdown on Russian espionage in the wake of the report.

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee [ISC] has warned that the UK is a primary target for Russian meddling, following the US and NATO.

Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed the report as “Russophobia”.

The so-called Russia report claims that the UK is “clearly a target” for disinformation campaigns around elections, adding that no entity is taking the initiative on dealing with the problem.

The new law being considered by the government is likely to be similar to the Espionage Act which the committee suggested, which would render it an illegal act to commit covert acts of spying in the UK.

The Times reported that any such law would make the UK a “harder environment for adversaries to operate in”.

The Russia report was critical of the government and intelligence agencies for not addressing the issue of Russian interference earlier and states that no effort was made to investigate claims that Moscow had interfered in the EU referendum of 2016.

It claimed the UK government “belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose” when a cyber-attack operation against the Democratic Party came to light in the lead up to the 2016 US White House election.

Downing Street has also denied that it deliberately delayed the report prior to December’s general election.

The Labour Party plans to address what it calls multiple shortcomings in the UK’s national security policy and “systemic failings” in how the government has dealt with Russia and other “hostile” countries in Parliament on Wednesday.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said that the government did not offer security services “strategic support, legislative tools or necessary resources”.

Thomas-Symonds added that his party would support the introduction of measures suggested in the report, surrounding new legislation and collaboration with online companies to quell any "hostile state activity" that may take place on their platforms.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four, Thomas-Symonds said: "There was no single minister, no single government department that was responsible for the protection of our democracy and our democratic discourse and that absolutely now has to change."

The government has dismissed calls for the intelligence agencies to assess possible Russian interference in the EU referendum, saying that there was “no evidence” that “successful interference” had occurred.

Speaking on Tuesday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: "We've been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies.

"We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values from such hostile state activity."

Raab also dismissed the idea that the government “actively avoided” looking into the prospect of Russian interference in UK democracy for some time.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 22 2020

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