The Russia report is full of prejudice, but no evidence

The report shows that Brexit is not a Russian conspiracy.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

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Topics Brexit Politics UK

The long-awaited report into alleged Russian interference in UK politics, courtesy of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, has finally landed. Much to the disappointment of anti-Brexit conspiracy theorists across the UK.

For this is a staggeringly uninsightful document, especially when it comes to the question of the Russian state’s role in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. There is speculation, of course. And lots of assumptions. But there is nothing we haven’t heard before. Here is the killer line:

‘There have been widespread public allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 referendum… The impact of any such attempts would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so.’

That, in a nutshell, is it. It mentions pre-existing ‘open source’ reports on the role of Russian bots on social media. But it doesn’t confirm or deny these reports. In fact, it provides no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit vote, nor, moreover, does it search for any. Incredibly, the committee even calls on the government to, er, launch an intelligence community-led investigation into ‘potential Russian interference in the EU referendum’, and publish an ‘unclassified summary’, and criticises it for not doing so earlier. Got that? This is a report on Russian interference in, among other things, the EU referendum, calling for a report on interference in the EU referendum. ‘This would… represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.’ Somehow one doubts that.

What is odd about the committee’s bizarre demand for another report is that it thinks this is justified by the US’s very public inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Perhaps at the time the report was written it seemed like it was. But, since the Mueller Inquiry failed to ‘establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities’, the whole Russiagate fiasco has slowly but surely unraveled. So the idea that the UK should head down the same road seems foolish at best.

Still, you have to feel for those committed anti-Brexiteers who were convinced that UK prime minister Boris Johnson was holding back this report’s publication because it would expose Brexit as a Russia-orchestrated plot. It seems now they will have to wait for yet another report.

Seemingly, though, the tweet-addled denizens of Remainia were not too bothered. They had already prepared themselves for the absence of a smoking gun – indeed, any clear evidence of a Russian conspiracy. In fact, as Oddball Prize-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr told her FBPE minions just hours ahead of the report’s release, not only would the report be inconclusive, the very ‘right-wing outriders’ (including, er, spiked) and ‘social-media platforms used by bad actors to interfere in our politics will be used to spin the news today’. Or, to put it another way, those who report the absence of a conspiracy are part of the conspiracy.

Not that this almost impressive X Files-ish conviction that the truth is out there is a surprise. It is at the heart of the conspiracy theorist’s mindset. To its initiates, belief in the existence of a conspiracy precedes evidence of a conspiracy. And just as the conspiracy theorist’s faith is logically prior to the establishment of evidence, so it survives, and thrives, in the absence of evidence.

Think of how the other supposed bodies of evidence used to undermine Brexit have turned to dust: Cambridge Analytica, the great data-hackers behind Brexit, who, it turns out, never actually worked on any Brexit campaign; or the allegations that Arron Banks pumped millions of pounds’ worth of ‘dark money’ into the Leave.eu campaign in return for a stake in a gold mine, which were dismissed by the National Crime Agency last year. And note that despite the collapse of these claims, the faith of conspiracy theorists like Cadwalladr remains as strong as ever. ‘Russia is still behind it’, they think. ‘The conspiracy is just larger and more complex than we thought.’

It’s not, of course. It is just that their need for it to be Russia is too strong, because their antipathy to Brexit is too great. Without the belief that Russia interfered in and corrupted the referendum, they would have to face the reality: namely, that on 23 June 2016, 17.4million people voted, seriously, thoughtfully and in good conscience, to leave the EU. Their minds weren’t hacked. Their motivations weren’t racist or xenophobic. They simply wanted to repatriate lawmaking powers hitherto given up to the EU – in other words, ‘take back control’.

There is an unintended consequence of Remainers’ obsession with this Russian conspiracy: it has exacerbated and fuelled anti-Russian sentiment among our political and cultural elites, much of it hanging over from the Cold War. And that is one of the most striking aspects of this particular report into Russian interference: it is full to the brim with anti-Russian prejudice and Cold War-era flights of fancy.

So in an early section asking ‘What does Russia want?’, the committee concludes, simply, that Russia is ‘fundamentally nihilistic’. It wants to undermine our democratic institutions, because, well, ‘any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia’. All this is fine for a spy thriller, but a parliamentary report?

It gets worse. In a later section, it rehearses borderline xenophobic assumptions about UK-based Russians, many of whom are now British citizens. It talks of the residents of ‘Londongrad’ and their ‘Russian money’ and ‘industry of enablers’, all of whom might be used to ‘promote the nefarious interests of the Russian state’. It’s dangerous stuff. British citizens with Russian backgrounds are being conjured up here as the enemy within, a group forever working for a shadowy foreign power.

Perhaps this caricature of Russia and Russians shouldn’t be a surprise, given the identity of those ‘experts’ the committee relied on outside the ‘intelligence community’: two New Cold War advocates in the shape of Anne Applebaum and Edward Lucas; avowed anti-Putin activist and hedge-fund manager William Browder; an ex-member of Margaret Thatcher’s Soviet Advisory team and NATO adviser called Christopher Donnelly; and last but not least, Christopher Steele, the spook-for-hire responsible for producing the dirty and very dodgy dossier alleging Donald Trump was a Russian asset – in fact, just recently a British court found Steele guilty of failing to check claims made in said dossier.

These aren’t dispassionate experts on the Russian state and the politics of Russia; they are veterans of the old and new Cold War. Their animosity towards Moscow is matched only by their fear and loathing of what they see as the rise of populism.

The report contends throughout that the ‘fundamentally nihilistic’ Russian state is dead set on sowing discord and confusion, and undermining public trust in democratic institutions. Why would it bother, though? It seems that those pursuing this Russia conspiracy theory, in an attempt to undermine and delegitimise a democratic vote, are doing a pretty good job of that all by themselves.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

a watson

22nd July 2020 at 10:06 am

Those who dislike and undermine our democracy, institutions such as the BBC, the Electoral Commission, the EU as well as the unrepresentative Labour Party, enjoy deflecting any investigation into their bias by shouting of foreign meddling – especially Russian.

The synchronicity between the hysteria in the media and accusation of Russian interference in the Trump election as President and in the Brexit vote is interesting, especially regarding the totally false Steele report commissioned by the Democrats. These wealthy gangsters hate our democracy and will gladly scapegoat Russia for it not behaving as they wish.

George Whale

22nd July 2020 at 9:20 am

What a dreadful misuse of public money.

CJ Hawes

22nd July 2020 at 8:20 am

It would be nice to have a clear example of what Russia has doneski to influence people. Without that there is no point in discussing.

steve moxon

22nd July 2020 at 7:25 am

Well what’s wrong with Russian influence when Russia generally and Putin in particular is resolutely against feminism as an extremist abomination, and against ‘identity politics’ generally, including its misanthropic apotheosis in the bogus anthropogenic climate change baloney? And how far would those dumb, malicious BLM demonstrators get in Red Square, you reckon?
This facet of Russia and Putin we need over here in its entirety. Russia is a bulwark against the backlash bastardisation of the politics it sent packing in its own lands. We might do well to think on this and seek common cause in our developing opposition to our own elites.

steve moxon

22nd July 2020 at 7:09 am

And aren’t the elite touchy about everyone knowing all this is sour grapes about Brexit? Have a look at Maitliss last night on the Boob insisting in her familiar dictatatorial style that this is the one thing the media is not doing is linking Russian interference with the Brexit vote. The harridan is left with pretending that the media in striving so much not to make explicit its motivation doesn’t thereby rather point it up.

John Lewis

22nd July 2020 at 6:05 am

It’s suspiciously convenient for shifting the debate away from China at the present time.

Christopher Thompson

22nd July 2020 at 5:51 am

Well argued and written. The only part I disagreed with was the assumption about the motivation of Brexit voters. We can’t possibly know why people voted the way they did; I simply thought, for example that employment prospects would be better; But all we need to know is that they did vote to leave.

Treacle Tart

21st July 2020 at 11:10 pm

Surely the best way of dealing with this is for the government to ask all those who feel that they voted the way they did because the Kremlin persuaded them to to come forward? I’d be surprised if even a single person claimed that they themselves voted as they did as a result of Russian influence.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

22nd July 2020 at 12:03 am

Utter bull****. You know that is not what ‘Russian influence’ means, you KGB halfw it.

Jerry Owen

22nd July 2020 at 8:14 am

Oh look ZP is still crying LOL!

John Pretty

21st July 2020 at 10:46 pm

I detest Russophobia, so it’s a welcome change to find mother Russia vindicated.

It’s always a good time to have a laugh at arch-Russophobe Luke Harding, so by way of celebration I provide the link below. This comes courtesy of Richard de Lacy, writing for an allegedly respectable online magazine in 2011:

https://www.spiked-online.com/2011/10/04/face-it-the-fsb-is-just-not-that-into-you/

Ray Diator

21st July 2020 at 8:59 pm

All these Russian spying, interfering, poisoning, hacking etc type stories will be put into cold storage, and recycled as and when required at a later date, with the word ‘Russia’ deleted and replaced with ‘China’

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

22nd July 2020 at 12:06 am

Whatever you say, Sergei.

John Lewis

22nd July 2020 at 6:08 am

Whether or not that ever happens, and with China’s influence on our economy and ownership of much of our establishment it must be doubtful, any Russian interference is schoolboy stuff by comparison.

Ellen Whitaker

21st July 2020 at 8:58 pm

Having grown up in the era of the McCarthy hearings and the Cold War, when right-wing Republicans were constantly playing on voters’ fears of the Soviet Union in order to drive their own agenda, it amuses me to see the Left trying to play the same game with the much-diminished Russian state.
And despite the recent discrediting of Steele’s dodgy dossier and the accusations of Trump/Putin collusion, Joe Biden, without missing a beat, continues to issue dire warnings about Russian interference, not explicitly mentioning Trump collusion at this point, but the implication is there.

Brandy Cluster

21st July 2020 at 11:01 pm

I watched a program last night (from the BBC) about Putin; part of a series. What a dour and terrifying ex KGB agent he is. A murderous thug desperate for relevance who lamented the collapse of the old Soviet Union.

As for the McCarthy comment. The Republicans didn’t need to seek political gain, as this happened shortly after the war. It wasn’t paranoia but the stupidity of the Left; their fellow Americans had only recently been slaughtered in Europe in the fight against tyranny and these useful idiots in the ‘arts’ were at come, nice and cozy, and busy advocating for communism. You couldn’t make it up. These types continue to be useful idiots; these days to the Left and Democrats. “Oh, but it wouldn’t be THAT kind of communism”. Yeah, ask Jordan Peterson all about that.

Al Wilson

21st July 2020 at 8:54 pm

Laughable how Spiked goes on all the time about free speech, then witholds comments that dont fit the narrative.

Gordon O Gopher

21st July 2020 at 8:36 pm

Yeh but Brexit’s still bare racist. And that’s a fact. Ok there’s no evidence as such but all it needs to be racist is for me to think it’s racist. Sure there’s almost no black or ethnic MEPs and the EU favours white migration over non-white migration but that irrelevant; Brexit is bare racist and that’s a fact!

Al Wilson

21st July 2020 at 8:09 pm

Come on Spiked, liberate my comment, its been ‘moderated’ for ages. Free speech isn’t it ?

Al Wilson

21st July 2020 at 7:32 pm

Alexander Yakovenko, Russias ambassador to Britain from 2011, returned home in 2019. Putin made him a member of the Order of Alexander Nevsky and president of his Diplomatic Academy. Yakovenko explained to his admiring colleagues that the state was rewarding him for smashing the Brits to the ground. It will be a long time before they rise again. Mission accomplished, he could enjoy the honours bestowed by a grateful dictator.
Arron Banks when asked at the Select Committee how many times he visited the Russian Embassy during the Leave campaign replied ‘once for a boozy lunch’ then it transpired he visited seven times. Cummings four years in Moscow -and 3 million facebook adverts with such ‘facts’ as 14 million Turks he are coming when they join the EU, the EU is killing Polar bears -all selctively targetted from Cambridge Analyticas profile matching. Johnson meeting billionaire Lebedev six times and his mansion being the first port of call after the result. This is all in the public domain, not fucking conspiracy, and for the government to immediately say they will not look into it after delaying the report stinks. I love my country but theres people running it just interested in money. Traitors.

James Knight

21st July 2020 at 7:28 pm

People who suggest the UK has no manufacturing industry are wrong. The media manufactures news on an epic scale. This manufacturing industry has green credentials: like Sweden, the media is running out of rubbish to re-cycle.

Mor Vir

21st July 2020 at 7:57 pm

If only we could harness all that hot air for the grid, and bluster for the wind farms.

Jerry Owen

21st July 2020 at 6:38 pm

I don’t know anyone at all who have said that Russia convinced them to vote ‘leave’… Because quite simply Russia didn’t interfere.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 6:54 pm

You are shifting the goalposts. Brexit is against our long-term economic and geostrategic interests regardless of whether the Russians influenced the vote or not.

Kevin Turner

21st July 2020 at 7:25 pm

That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

James Knight

21st July 2020 at 7:44 pm

So the issue is not Russia interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, your issue is with the idea that the UK should be a sovereign country at all.

Got it.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 8:27 pm

JAMES KNIGHT — The UK still had sovereignty in the EU. The UK still had control of its borders and the extent of immigration – it simply refused to exercise the control that it legally possessed.

jmNZ

21st July 2020 at 6:30 pm

As usual, it’s the 77th brigade, Integrity Initiative, with their “The Russians burnt my toast” allegations.
It really angers me that our taxes are being squandered on these Dr Strangelove creeps in the Foreign Office and the BBC.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 6:59 pm

Litvinenko and Skripal didn’t happen then? What’s the weather like in St Petersburg today, Sergei?

John Pretty

21st July 2020 at 10:50 pm

You don’t know what happened to Sergei Skripal. I doubt it had anything to do with Putin.

Novichok? lol, are you really that gullible? Do you seriously think – if the Russian government wanted to poison Skripal – that they would use a nerve agent that pointed fingers at them?

What really happened is not clear. I’ve never been sure if the UK government covered it up, or if they didn’t know what happened either and just pointed the finger at Russia.

There is no logical reason for Russia to have done that.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

22nd July 2020 at 12:01 am

JOHN PRETTY aka FELIX DZERZHINSKY lol.

John Pretty

22nd July 2020 at 7:13 pm

Wow, lol, what a takedown! Felix who? I have to be some sort of Russian bad guy do I to have an opinion on this do I?

On this silly theme – are you Luke Harding? (Ahaaa! Unmasked !!)

Roe Pastor

21st July 2020 at 6:25 pm

I am amazed at the attention given on both sides of the Atlantic to a country that has a smaller economy than Italy. Why do people consider Russia to be the boogeyman?

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 6:58 pm

Because they have 3000 nuclear warheads. Because their Tsar has annexed Abkhazia and Crimea and caused over 10,000 deaths in the Donbass. Because Putin is maintaining Russian spying in the UK at Cold War levels. Because Putin’s use of radioactive and chemical weapons on British soil indicates his malicious intent and refusal to abide by the rules-based international legal order. Because were Putin to mount a land invasion of the Baltic States he would overwhelm western forces and sucessfully annex three EU/NATO states. If you think Putin is on our side and ‘benign’ then you need your head examined.

Ray Diator

21st July 2020 at 9:04 pm

ZENOBIA PALMYRA
I couldn’t really care less if Russia invaded the Baltic states. All these ex-Soviet ‘EU’ members seem to do is flood Britain’s streets with unroadworthy crappy cars

John Pretty

21st July 2020 at 10:57 pm

A referendum was held in Crimea.

Around 95% of the voters wanted to return to Russia.

I believe in democracy, do you?

John Pretty

21st July 2020 at 10:58 pm

PS:

I think you will find that the United States is BY FAR the biggest military power on the planet.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

22nd July 2020 at 12:06 am

JOHN PRETTY — Not difficult for Putin to take the Baltic states. His land forces would quickly overwhelm NATO troops. Putin’s calculation would be that the west is not willing to escalate to a full-blown nuclear conflict. Putin is absolutely prepared to use WMDs, chemical and biological warfare and tactical nukes.

John Pretty

22nd July 2020 at 7:16 pm

“Not difficult for Putin to take the Baltic states.”

Except that he has shown no desire to “take the Baltic states” has he.

Why would he want them anyway? Russia is quite big … doh!

Zenophobia, I suggest giving up the Guardian. It’s poisoning your mind. Novichok anyone?

James Knight

21st July 2020 at 7:41 pm

I would bet their entire economy is smaller than Apple.

The UK along with the US pioneered the doctrine “regime change”. Not long ago Trump was talking as if Iraqi oil literally belonged to the US and nobody batted an eyelid. I mean, Jesus.

Darth Saddius

21st July 2020 at 6:17 pm

I would be curious to know what readers/commentators here at S.O. think regarding a question I will pose below. I would be interested in your answers regardless of whether you are pro or anti-brexit and regardless of whether you think that the Russian State did or did not attempt to influence the 2016 referendum.

Do you think the Russian rulership/ruling class would prefer that we had remained part of the European Union? A simple yes or no will suffice.*

*To quote EV-9D9.

Mor Vir

21st July 2020 at 7:13 pm

I really do not know whether Russia preferred UK out of EU. I am not privy to their geostrategic thought on that matter. It is a hugely complex and multi-faceted question that does not really invite a knee-jerk, impressionistic response. Pass. I have never seen a serious analysis of the question, which is perhaps odd given the prominence of the conspiracy theories.

Darth Saddius

21st July 2020 at 7:32 pm

Is that a yes or a no? The almighty Saarlac awaits.

Mor Vir

21st July 2020 at 7:43 pm

Russia sees UK as a USA poodle but it also sees EU policy as driven primarily by France and Germany, so I am not sure that it cares either way on that count. Russia is more interested in its relations with continental powers. Putin’s spokesman famously stated that Britain is ‘just a small island, no one pays any attention to them’, (2013) and that may be how Russia sees UK – but who knows?

Russia is ambivalent about EU, it welcomes it as a strategic pole against USA but it does not like its expansion into the old Russian sphere. It is a pole from which it is excluded but it is its main trading partner and it is developing relations with it.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 5:51 pm

Tim Black is either a paid Russian agent or the Kremlin’s useful idiot. The Russians have used radioactive and chemical weapons on British soil. Tim Black thinks that’s ok because the real enemies of Britain are people who disagree with Brexit. How dare 50 percent of the UK electorate disagree with Tim Black. Bleating on about how wonderful the Russians are won’t deflect attention away from the insane folly of leaving the world’s largest trading bloc without any viable alternative economic strategy. I hope Black and his pro-Putin neoliberal ideologues are ready to own the economic and institutional meltdown they are about to create.

Jerry Owen

21st July 2020 at 6:36 pm

ZP still crying LOL

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 6:51 pm

Not crying at all. Brexit is still an imbecilic idea.

Kevin Turner

21st July 2020 at 6:54 pm

It’s 48% of the UK electorate that might possibly disagree with Tim Black; 52% would wholeheartedly agree with him: that’s a majority, by the way. And rather than being neo-liberal ideologues, that 52% voted to leave the most neo-liberal institution in the world.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 8:28 pm

Barely a majority, and certainly not enough of a majority to enact epochal constitutional change. However, I accept the referendum result and accept that it cannot be changed. I will just move to the Republic of Ireland.

Mor Vir

21st July 2020 at 11:31 pm

Soon to be the Irish Republic on a 50% +1 basis.

Jerry Owen

22nd July 2020 at 11:50 am

ZP
‘Barely a majority’ the referendum result was a majority for leave. Period.
About time you sucked it up eh ??

Ellen Whitaker

21st July 2020 at 9:05 pm

Meds, meds.

Jim Lawrie

21st July 2020 at 5:27 pm

I’d welcome a quick enquiry into why the Russians are the best programmers in the world and what we are going to do to catch up. They could be up to all sorts and we just would not know about it.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 5:53 pm

Spoken like a true friend of Vladimir Putin.

Jerry Owen

21st July 2020 at 6:38 pm

ZP
Your evidence for Russian interference is ? ….

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st July 2020 at 6:50 pm

JERRY OWEN — I have no interest in whether the Russians did or did not influence the Brexit vote. My point is that breaking up the EU plays right into Putin’s hands. Putin is playing a divide and rule game in Europe and succeeding. Brexit is just another factor that makes it much harder to resist anti-democratic Russian influence within Europe.

Jim Lawrie

21st July 2020 at 8:37 pm

As usual, invective and insinuation instead of substance. The Russians are the best programmers. And the best chess players.

Tell us what of Europe has succumbed to Vladimir Putin’s “divide and rule” game?

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

22nd July 2020 at 12:02 am

JIM LAWRIE — The United Kingdom! lol. Didn’t you notice?

Jerry Owen

22nd July 2020 at 3:43 pm

‘The United Kingdom! lol’
Explain ZP seeing as you admit there is no evidence?

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