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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.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Raab said that unknown Russian elements had acted to “amplify” awareness of leaked documents relating to post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and USA.
The documents covered six rounds of trade talks between 2017-19 and highlighted the US desire to secure access for its drugs companies to NHS markets and for the lifting of bans on agriciultural products like chlorine-washed chicken.
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They are understood to have been illicitly obtained and posted on the internet discussion board Reddit months previously, but gained little attention until the Russian actors allegedly began to disseminate them more widely in the hope that they would be noticed during the election campaign.
They eventually hit the headlines when then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn brandished a copy of the unredacted papers at an election press conference last November, declaring that they showed Boris Johnson was putting the NHS on the table in trade talks
In his statement, Mr Raab did not suggest that the papers were initially obtained by the Russian actors, or that they passed them directly to Labour, stating only that they took action to “promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the General Election”. There was also no attempt on the part of the UK government to link the individuals involved with president Vladimir Putin or agencies of the Russian state.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman rejected as “nonsense” suggestions that the government was broadcasting its suspicions now in the hope of distracting attention from the upcoming publication of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian attempts to interfere in UK politics, which is expected to be highly embarrassing for the prime minister.
The membership and chair of the ISC was only confirmed last night, following a seven-month delay by the prime minister in putting nominees forward, and his spokesman said: “We needed to update the ISC before putting the information in the public domain.”
Mr Raab told MPs: “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. It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections.”
A criminal investigation is currently under way into the original leak.
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