It is “almost certain” Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said. Mr Raab said Russian elements had acted to “amplify” leaked documents relating to post-Brexit trade talks with the US.
It comes as Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said ‘Cozy Bear’ hackers linked to Russian state intelligence are attempting to steal secret research on coronavirus vaccines from UK labs. “We condemn these despicable attacks,” said the NCSC.
The report into alleged Russian meddling will be released next week, the intelligence and security committee has confirmed. Sir Malcolm Rifkind blamed Mr Johnson’s “incompetence” for the farce that saw No 10’s choice Chris Grayling fail to win the chairmanship.
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Labour’s Lisa Nandy has said the government’s report into Russian interference in the UK must be released as soon as possible.
Speaking after it was revealed Russia had attempted to hack institutions working on a coronavirus vaccine, the shadow foreign secretary said: “The reported actions of the Russian intelligence services are wrong and should be condemned.
“The Labour Party is committed to working with the Government to protect the UK’s national security and safeguard our institutions from foreign interference – none more so than those leading the international effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
“The long-overdue Russia report must now be made public, and the Foreign Secretary come to the House of Commons and provide MPs with concrete steps that will be taken to protect the UK from these kind of foreign cyber-attacks.”
Leicester to remain in partial lockdown – Hancock
Leicester will remain in partial lockdown despite “positive indicators” on the rate of infection – Matt Hancock has said.
For all the latest my colleage Andy Gregory is covering the day’s news on the virus below:
Treasury hits out at claim funds were being diverted to support Sunak’s jobs plan
The Treasury has rejected think tank Institute for Fiscal Studies’ claim funding being diverted from previously planned projects to support Rishi Sunak’s plan for jobs.
Alongside the major announcements, it was revealed “with much less fanfare” that there were reductions in previously planned spending. According to the IFS, the Treasury’s decisions on funding for the devolved administrations suggest they expect these underspends to amount to almost £8 billion, while the OBR expects it to be more like £10 billion.
“This suggestion is wrong,” a Treasury spokesman said. “The Treasury has approved additional activity by departments as part of the plan for jobs.”
But the Treasury acknowledged that “it’s true that some other projects are underspending across government – this is not unusual in normal times – and not surprising in a global pandemic”.
Grayling warns Commons could burn to the ground
Chris Grayling has stepped up in the commons – not to discuss his recent failed bid to chair the intelligence and security comittee – but to warn the place could burn down as Notre Dame did last year if action is not taken.
“I want to really make the point to everybody here, and particularly to new members here, this is not something that we have an option about, we have got to do this,” Mr Grayling told MPs.
“We very nearly had to close this chamber indefinitely within a few days of me becoming leader of the House (in 2015) because asbestos was discovered just up there in the ventilation shafts.
“If that asbestos had become dislodged or if it were to become dislodged in the future for whatever reason, we would have no choice but to immediately close this chamber indefinitely and what then happens?”
Warning about a “jumble of wiring” in the basement of Parliament, he added: “It’s been known for a long time, the authorities have always said in this House that they can get us all out, they can save our lives, but they cannot save the building.
“If we have a serious fire, this building will burn down in the way that Claremont Park burned down, in the way that Notre Dame burnt down.”
Opposition parties call for action on racism as Tony Sewell named as commission leader
Opposition parties have hit out at the government’s appointment of Tony Sewell to lead the new racial disparity commission, despite his previous claim that evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”.
Mr Sewell was confirmed by the Government as chairman of the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities on Thursday – but opposition MPs have called for action as opposed to yet another report on the effects of systemic racism in the UK
Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “As Black Lives Matter has shown, the Conservative Government urgently needs to redress institutional racism in the criminal justice system and many other parts of our society.
“I wish the commission well, and commit the Liberal Democrats to playing a constructive role. But, to guarantee this commission has real teeth, the Prime Minister should commit now to ensuring the recommendations to come don’t just sit and gather dust.
“Conservative ministers must not use the commission as an excuse to stall on tackling racism. We need a race equality strategy now, starting with scrapping the hostile environment policies and suspicion-less stop and search.”
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “It’s time for action on the structural racism that we already know exists.
“Much of the evidence that Dr Sewell will review has already been presented to the Government.
“His first priority should be to understand why the many recommendations made from reviews and investigations in recent years are yet to be implemented by the Government.”
Coronavirus outcome in the UK has not been good, admits chief scientific adviser
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has admitted the UK has not had a good outcome from the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to MPs on the Commons science and technology committee Sir Patrick said: “It’s clear the outcome in the UK has not been good. I think we can be absolutely clear about that.”
He had previously said 20,000 deaths would be a “good result” in the pandemic, but the latest death rates show the UK has seen more than 50,000 deaths linked to coronavirus.
Andrea Leadsom calls for secondary chamber to be permanent fixture
While debating where MPs will sit while the commons is regenerated, former leader of the house Andrea Leadsom said a permanent back-up Commons chamber is needed as a contingency plan in case of a disaster.
She told the Commons: “It’s not a case of whether we fancy moving out or staying here, it’s that if we don’t move out all of the evidence points to a disaster that would force us to move and, if and when that happens, as I pointed out in 2018, the contingency arrangements for a catastrophic failure in this palace is a temporary chamber in a building in Parliament Square using curtains and temporary wiring. It’s designed to last for a few weeks at most.”
Ms Leadsom said there is an “obvious need for a permanent contingency plan for future generations”, which means “establishing a permanent and alternative contingency venue for the Commons to be able to meet within the palace perimeter wall” as the current “decant” plans involve for Richmond House.
MPs continue scrutiny of plan to relocate parliament
MPs have continued to scrutinise proposed plans to move parliament to York while the run-down House of Commons is restored.
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz questioned if a temporary move to York had been costed, adding in the Commons: “This House won’t be able to continue with a patch and mend approach or a quick fix – that won’t do – and any delays will exacerbate the problem, probably making it cost more.”
Conservative Damian Hinds, who speaks on behalf of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, said many current MPs “won’t be around” to see the restoration works finished.
He said: “This is not about us. We are trustees of this place. Clearly we have to do what is right, not what happens to be convenient for us as its current temporary occupants.”
Mr Hinds added the patch and mend approach is failing and noted the National Audit Office found Parliament spent £369 million in the last three years on projects to keep the buildings in use, with a £1 billion repairs backlog.
Russia terms Raab intervention ‘ambiguous’ and ‘confusing’
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has dismissed Dominic Raab’s statement on her nation’s involvement in UK affairs as “ambiguous” and “confusing”.
She said the UK had admitted there was “no evidence of full-scale interference” by Russia.
Ms Zakharova added: “However they claim that any attempts of such interference are unacceptable and they also voiced some hints on certain investigations, criminal investigation, that allegedly is under way.
“At this juncture it is premature to make any statements on our behalf, but let me say this: this statement is so ambiguous and so confusing that it is unclear what they are trying to say.”
You can read more on Mr Raab’s comments to the House of Commons below:
York move ‘would be matter for parliamentarians’, says Rees-Mogg
Tory chairman of the liaison committee Sir Bernard Jenkin questioned reports of MPs and peers moving to York on a temporary basis (Boris Johnson confirmed that he is considering establishing a “government hub” in York, in a letter sent to officials).
Sir Bernard asked Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to “clarify” the matter.
Rees-Mogg replied: “I think (Sir Bernard) may be alluding to the mention in the prime minister’s letter of York and I would remind [Sir Bernard] that between 1301 and 1335, Parliament met in York 11 times, but that when Edward IV tried to get it to move to York it was unsuccessful.
“And so it will end being a matter for parliamentarians as to where this House sits. Though strictly speaking, the meeting of Parliament is called by the sovereign to her palace at Westminster and that, I think, is something that it would be highly unlikely to change without the acceptance of parliamentarians.”
Restored parliament won’t be ‘second Versailles’, says Rees-Mogg
The project to restore parliament is not an opportunity to “create a second Versailles”, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned.
Speaking during a Commons debate, Rees-Mogg told MPs there can be “no blank cheque” for the project. He said: “No-one here today will forget for a moment that we are discussing this matter in the midst of a global pandemic which is placing great strain on the nation’s purse-strings.
“Today’s debate is a chance to set out our expectations in this context and this should be a limited project to replace failing mechanical and engineering equipment, not an opportunity to create a second Versailles.
“There can be no blank cheque for this work which is why it is so important that the outlined business case will be fully costed.”
Hackers linked to Russia trying to steal UK’s secret coronavirus vaccine research, officials say
Okay. Yet more Russia-related news now – a very serious claim from one of GCHQ’s intelligence agencies.
Hackers linked to Russia’s state intelligence agencies are attempting to steal secret research on coronavirus vaccines from UK labs, the National Cyber Security Centre has said.
A co-ordinated statement from Britain, the US and Canada attributed the attacks to group APT29, also known as ‘Cozy Bear’, which they said was almost certainly operating as part of Russian intelligence services.
“We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” said NCSC Director of Operations, Paul Chichester.
The NCSC said in a statement the group’s attacks were ongoing and used a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware.
“APT29 is likely to continue to target organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine research and development, as they seek to answer additional intelligence questions relating to the pandemic,” the NCSC statement said.
Russia claims a distraction? ‘Nonsense’ says No 10
Boris Johnson’s spokesman has said it is “nonsense” to suggest Dominic Raab’s statement is an attempt to distract from the announcement about the intelligence and security committee publishing its report about alleged Russian interference in the UK.
The No 10 spokesman also said the government is “bitterly disappointed” by the court’s ruling in the Shamima Begum case (the Court of Appeal said should be allowed to return to the UK to appeal against the removal of her British citizenship).
Downing Street also defended the NHS Test and Trace programme following the release of the latest statistics on its operation. The PM’s spokesman said: “Fewer people have been testing positive as the infection rate comes down, so we are naturally seeing less contacts being identified.”
No 10 defends new head of race commission
Downing Street defended the appointed of Tony Sewell to lead the racial disparity work – despite his previous claim that evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “The PM’s view is that he has asked the commission to examine inequality in the UK across the whole population and he is very pleased to have assembled a group of talented and diverse commissioners.
“In terms of Dr Sewell CBE, he has supported many young people from diverse backgrounds into Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The PM knows very well his work and how it has improved access to education across London.”
Documents used by Corbyn in NHS ‘sell-off’ claims
So the leaked government documents highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn during last year’s general election were almost certainly “amplified” online by “Russian actors”, Dominic Raab has said.
What did Corbyn claim? The papers were used by the then Labour leader to back his claims that the Conservatives were preparing to “sell off” the NHS at a press conference on 22 November.
After Labour highlighted the documents, Reddit – an online discussion site – said that its own investigation had linked the appearance of the documents to a previous Russian disinformation campaign.
Raab has claimed the documents were “disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit … When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run-up to the general election.”
Former Corbyn staffer Matt Zarb Cousin has tweeted: “Hearing the Russian state influences foreign elections using sophisticated techniques, such as posting documents on Reddit and tweeting the link randomly at people. More as we get it.”
UK could respond to alleged Russian interference with ‘appropriate measures’, Raab warns
So what is the government claiming on Russian interference at the election? “It is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab said.
“Sensitive government documents relating to the UK-US free trade agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 general election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit,” he added.
A British government investigation found that when these documents gained little traction, further attempts were made to promote illicitly obtained material online ahead of the election, Raab said.
“Whilst there is no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign against the general election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable,” Raab said.
“The government reserves the right to respond with appropriate measures in the future.”
Almost one-third of UK firms planning layoffs
Almost one-third of UK business intend to make redundancies over the next three months as firms continue to struggle from the fall-out caused by coronavirus, a new report has found, writes Rory Sullivan.
In its latest quarterly recruitment forecast, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said that 29 per cent of 7,400 businesses surveyed intend to cut staff by the end of September.
This is the largest percentage ever recorded by the BCC in this type of study and comes amid growing fears of mass unemployment as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Russia ‘almost certainly’ tried to influence 2019 election, claims Raab
It is “almost certain” that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 UK General Election, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has told the House of Commons.
Raab said Russian elements had acted to “amplify” awareness of leaked documents relating to post-Brexit trade talks with the US.
Lewis was ‘playing ducks and drakes with Labour’, says Rees-Mogg
Conservative Peter Bone accused some in Downing Street of having a “huge hissy fit” over Julian Lewis becoming intelligence and security committee chairman.
The MP said Mr Lewis is “exceptionally well qualified” and will do an “excellent job”.
He told the Commons: “However, some in Number 10 seem to be having a huge hissy fit about the decision. Will the Leader of the House confirm that he will not bring forward a motion to remove [Lewis] from the ISC?”
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg replied: “[Lewis] was playing ducks and drakes with the Labour party and that is why the whip has been withdrawn.”
PM announces head of race commission
Boris Johnson has announced the head of a new government commission on race, following claims of delays. The body will be led by Tony Sewell.
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