Is Downing Street trying to draw the sting out of the Russia report with election interference admission?
Why has Downing Street chosen today to admit what it’s known for some time: that Russia did try to interfere in British democracy?
The foreign secretary has revealed that Russia “almost certainly” tried to influence the 2019 general election.
It comes after the Intelligence and Security Committee said it will publish the Russia report into alleged interference next week.
The government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been accused of sitting on it for nine months.
The timing of these revelations is interesting, says Sky’s defence and security correspondent Alistair Bunkall.
Exactly a month ago, I reported the findings of an independent investigation that revealed, in great detail, the activity of a Russian cyber group called Secondary Infektion.
That group carried out a disinformation campaign over six years, in seven different languages and on more than 300 different platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Reddit. It was thought to be linked to the Russian government.
British intelligence was aware of this report, and was largely in agreement with the findings.
Around the same time, ministers had been quietly told they could no longer claim there were no examples of Russian interference in British democracy. That went largely unreported.
The day after we reported the findings on Secondary Infektion, Dominic Raab was asked on Sky News whether Russia had interfered in UK elections.
The foreign secretary chose his words very carefully: “I don’t think it (Russian interference) had any outcome on the electoral process in the UK.”
He’s right, it didn’t – the Conservatives won a stonking majority, but that’s not to say Russia didn’t try though.
So, why now? Why has Downing Street chosen today to come clean and finally admit what it’s known for some time: that Russia did try to interfere in British democracy?
It is hard to look beyond events surrounding the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) over the past 24 hours and the successful coup by Julian Lewis who was appointed chair of the ISC in preference to Number 10’s chosen one, Chris Grayling.
Downing Street is fuming that Dr Lewis was elected chair, so much so they chucked him out of the Conservative Party.
Within a few hours of it convening for the first time, the ISC has announced it will publish the long-awaited, long-overdue Russia report next week, before Parliament breaks for its summer recess.
We don’t know what’s in the report.
Downing Street does, it’s signed it off and repeatedly said there is nothing of great note (that just makes the delay all the more perplexing).
It’s important to note the ISC Russia report pre-dates the recent election, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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But by revealing the news today, has Downing Street tried to gazump the Russia report?
By getting us to go big on the news today, are they drawing the sting out of the Russia report when it is finally published next week?
Perhaps it’s not just the Russians trying to manipulate the news agenda.