News | Published July 23 2020

PMQs: Government guilty of being complacent over national security, Labour leader says

Speaking at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government has been complacent with the UK’s national security and has left a “serious gap in our defences”.

Sir Keir added that the government had intentionally “delayed” legislation to respond to Russian meddling in UK democracy, despite acknowledging that existing laws were not sufficient to curb exterior interference from hostile states.

The Labour leader’s comments came after the release of the long-awaited Russia report, which suggests that the government underestimated the level of threat that Russia poses to UK democracy.

Sir Keir said: "The PM sat on this report for ten months and failed to plug a gap in our law in national security.

"How is the PM going to address that gap and meet the threat with the joined-up, robust response it deserves?"

In response, prime minister Boris Johnson accused pro-remain MPs of attempting to imply that interference from the Kremlin had influenced the outcome of the 2016 referendum in which the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Johnson said: “Let us be in no doubt what this is all about. It is about pressure from the Islingtonian remainers who have seized upon this report to try and give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit.

"The people of this country did not vote to leave the EU because of pressure from Russia."

The PM claimed that no other country in the West was more “vigilant” concerning Russian interference, highlighting that recent sanctions had been made against Russian officials involved in human rights violations.

However, the report from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee says that the government did not attempt to investigate any claims of Russian interference in the EU referendum and was critical of intelligence agencies for not making the issue a priority.

The government has said that an inquiry into the 2016 referendum will not be carried out since there is “no evidence of successful interference” from Russia in those democratic proceedings.

During the session, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said that security laws in the UK could be tightened which would require foreign agents to register in the country, making covert operations illegal.

In response to an urgent question put forward by the Labour Party, Brokenshire said that the government would also weigh up fortifying the Official Secrets Act and bringing in more stringent rules on investment visas.

Brokenshire added: "Let there be no doubt, we are unafraid to act where necessary to protect the UK and our allies."

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 23 2020

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