Cross-party group of MPs to sue government over alleged failure to investigate Russian interference in UK elections

Kate Devlin
·2 min read
Britain Isolated Boris Johnson (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Britain Isolated Boris Johnson (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A cross-party group of MPs and peers have announced plans to take the government to court over its alleged failure to investigate Russian interference in UK elections. Â

Baroness Wheatcroft, a former Conservative peer, is among those who have filed legal proceedings against ministers accusing them of failing to protect the right to “free and fair” elections.  

The politicians say they have no choice but to act after ministers ignored the recommendations of parliament’s Intelligence & Security Committee, which earlier this year found the government and the intelligence agencies had failed to conduct any proper assessment of Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Â

Support for their case comes from Lord Peter Ricketts, the former UK national security adviser.  

He said a “full retrospective” investigation is needed after ministers failed to “give political direction” to the intelligence services.  

In documents submitted to the court the group claim that future elections are now at risk.  

The politicians, Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, Green MP Caroline Lucas, SNP MP Alyn Smith and Lib Dem peer Lord Strasburger as well as Baroness Wheatcroft, say they believe it is the first time lawmakers have taken legal action against the government over alleged national security failures.  

In a witness statement Lord Ricketts expresses his surprise 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.”  

He adds: “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.”

Lord Strasburger said it was “very significant” that Lord Ricketts was publicly supporting the case. 

“He was about as senior as it gets in the intelligence community and if he is worried about the government’s refusal to investigate, we all should be," he said. 

Baroness Wheatcroft condemned what she said was the government’s failure act as “shameful".

A UK government spokesperson said: "We don't comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

"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."