World, Europe

UK politicians sue government over Russia interference

Opposition politicians say prime minister's failure to ensure elections were free and fair breached human rights

Karim El-Bar   | 29.10.2020
UK politicians sue government over Russia interference


A coalition of opposition politicians are taking legal action against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for failing to investigate alleged Russian interference in UK politics, local media reported on Thursday.

It is reportedly the first time a British government is being taken to court for national security failings, with the opposition politicians saying its failure to ensure elections were fair and free from outside interference was a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They also want to force Johnson to implement an “adequate legislative framework to protect against future foreign interference.”

It has been four months since the release of the chronically delayed Russia report compiled by parliament, which found “credible evidence” that Moscow had targeted British elections.

Britain was “clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations,” and as such “must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts".

The politicians launching the judicial review against Johnson are: Alyn Smith MP (SNP), Ben Bradshaw MP and Chris Bryant MP (Labour), and Caroline Lucas MP (Greens) from the lower House of Commons, as well as Lord Strasburger (Liberal Democrat) and Baroness Wheatcroft (former Conservative) from the upper House of Lords.

Baroness Wheatcroft said: “Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of any democracy. There is no doubt that the internet has opened the way for widespread potential interference in the electoral process from malign forces and that Russia has tried to exploit that opportunity.

“The Government must do its best to protect our electoral system and it can only begin to do that effectively if it first investigates the nature and scale of the problem. It is shameful that it refuses to do that voluntarily but that refusal is why I am party to this action to try and compel the action that the country deserves,” she added.

The judicial review also scored a witness review from Lord Ricketts -- a former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the first ever National Security Adviser to the British government.

He said he was surprised that “the government appeared not to have sought evidence on whether the Russian state was successful in interfering in the 2016 EU referendum campaign, and neither had it made any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts to influence elections in the UK.”

“Given the importance of knowing the extent of past Russian interference in assessing the risk for future elections, I do not understand why the Government would choose not to investigate,” he said, adding that there was a “failure to give political direction” to the security services.

The judicial review is also being backed by The Citizens, a not-for-profit organization.

Their spokesperson said: “It is completely extraordinary that the UK government should have so little concern for the national security of the country, that a cross-party group of MPs and Peers feels it has no choice but to take legal action in this way.

“As far as we know, it is unprecedented in modern British history. In the US, multiple investigations involving hundreds of intelligence officers and Congressional inquiries have detailed the extensive attacks by Russia on the 2016 US election.

“In Britain, that process hasn't even begun. We hope this will be the beginning of the beginning of that process.”

A UK government spokesman refused to comment directly on the legal proceedings, but did say: “Safeguarding our democracy will always be an absolute priority and the UK has robust systems in place to protect our elections and institutions from interference.

“To prevent against any future threats we are bringing forward new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt hostile state activity.

“And we have also published proposals for a digital imprint regime that will improve transparency in political campaigning online, and are developing an online media literacy strategy to help empower the public to question the information they read online.”

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