By: Nidhi Shah

After the criticism by MPs that the UK government badly underestimated the Russian threat and the acknowledgment it required, ministers are set to face questions and planning to strengthen security laws to prevent spying by hostile states.

The long-awaited report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) related to Russian activity in the UK centered on the failure by the government and Intelligence agencies to interrogate Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit or EU referendum. The report concluded that there is credible evidence that Russia did try to influence the 2014 Scottish independence vote, but it said there was no official evidence of such activity relating to the 2016 EU referendum and this is because the government failed to ask for the work to be done. The report said the government was playing catch-up and needed to take immediate action.

The report also said the social media companies step up to quickly remove covert hostile state material from their platforms as soon as possible or face being named and shamed, called for the Official Secrets Act to be updated and warned Russia’s cyber-attack capability is a matter of grave concern.

PM BorisJhonson dismissed a demand from the ISC since Downing Street said an inquiry is not necessary as it has seen no evidence on successful interference and refused to conduct a retrospective investigation.

But on Wednesday Home Office Minister James Brokenshire said they were looking at ways to strengthen security laws and already planning to make foreign agents register so that spies can monitor foreign agents more closely. 

The ISC report attacked successive governments for how they have approached the subject of Russia meddling.

ISC member Stewart Hosietold reporters that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum, because they did not want to touch this issue of Russia interference when it came to elections with a 10-foot pole and thus actively avoided looking at the issue.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raabstrongly rejected the above claim and said that it was the comment of one MP on the committee and not mentioned in the report. He said, “We have made it clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies. We will be determined to defend our country, our democracy, and our values against such hostile state activity.”

Labour party criticized systemic failures in the government approach to security. In response, Mr. Brokenshire said that the UK would consider strengthening the Official Secrets Act and tightening rules on investment visas.

The committee warned Russian influence in the UK is the new normal and said that the government must urgently bring forward greater powers and transparency to address the problems.

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