The Government has accused Russian actors of trying to interfere in last year’s general election, by amplifying leaked documents detailing trade talks between the UK and US.
Controversial papers – which suggested the NHS could be up for sale in any future trade deal between the two countries – were seized on by the Labour Party, and brandished at a press conference by Jeremy Corbyn to criticise the Government ahead of the election in December.
In an explosive written statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that it was “almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.”
‘Nonsense’ that No 10 trying to look tough on Russia
Labour defended their use of the documents at the time by claiming they had done so in the public interest. The details of the talks had been posted on Reddit, and there is no suggestion that Russia or Labour played any role in hacking them.
His intervention comes just hours after the Intelligence and Security Committee said it would release a long-anticipated report on Russia’s attempts to influence the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman branded as “nonsense” claims that Downing Street was releasing this information now as an attempt to look tough on Russia before the report is released, although the timing has raised eyebrows.
In his statement, sent to the House of Commons, Raab said: “During the 2019 General Election a cross-Government election security cell was stood up to coordinate responses to threats and hazards relating to the election.
“Sensitive Government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit.
“When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the General Election.
“Whilst there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable. It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections.”
No 10 confirmed that a criminal investigation into the acquisition of the documents is ongoing.