Russia

Boris Johnson: UK Government 'Leads The World' In Caution About Russia

The Prime Minister also said the Government is bringing forward legislation to protect the UK from Russian interference.

The Prime Minister has promised new laws to help tackle the threat posed by Russia, following accusations the Government was slow to respond and had "sat on" a highly critical report.

Boris Johnson insisted that the UK "leads the world in caution about Russian interference" after the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) accused the Government of badly underestimating the scale and nature of Moscow’s activities.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said ministers were aware of the need to update the law to give greater powers to the security and intelligence agencies 18 months ago but had failed to act.

"The Prime Minister sat on this report for 10 months and failed to plug a gap in our laws on national security for a year-and-a-half," Sir Keir said.

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: "This Government is bringing forward legislation, not only a new Espionage Act, not only new laws to protect against theft of our intellectual property but also a Magnitsky Act directly to counter individuals in Russia or elsewhere who transgress human rights."

He added that there is "no country in the Western world that is more vigilant in protecting the interests of this country or the international community from Russian interference".

As part of the package of measures to update security laws, ministers are considering a US-style law requiring people working on behalf of foreign states to formally register their activities.

The US Foreign Agents Registration Act covers activities including lobbying and public relations for overseas states.

Australia also has a similar register.

Meanwhile, the Government has already promised legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with "the tools they need" to disrupt hostile action.

The Official Secrets Act, which was branded "out of date" by the ISC in its report, is being reviewed by the Law Commission.

The Home Office is considering "like-minded international partners’ legislation" on foreign agent registration.

The ISC said the Government was slow to recognise the potential threat posed by Russia to British democratic processes and did not properly consider whether Moscow could interfere in the Brexit referendum until after the event.

According to the report, intelligence agencies and Government departments treated the issue as a "hot potato", with nobody effectively tackling the problem.

However, the Government said there was "no evidence" of successful Russian interference in the Brexit vote, but the committee – which oversees the work of Britain’s spies – suggested there was no proper investigation.

The publication of the report was delayed by the decision to call a general election and then the slow process of establishing a new ISC in the current parliament.