Making her annual address at the lord mayor’s banquet in the heart of the City, May warned the Russian government: “We know what you are doing – and you will not succeed.”
Her comments were in marked contrast to those made by Donald Trump over the weekend. The US President appeared to have sided with Putin over America’s own intelligence agencies, saying he believes Russian claims that it did not meddle in US elections.
May, however, told an audience of diplomats and captains of industry last night that Russia is guilty of interfering with foreign elections alongside numerous other offences.
She said Russia had hacked the Danish ministry of defence and the German Bundestag and had “repeatedly” violated the airspace of European countries.
“It is seeking to weaponise information,” she said.
“Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions.
“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.”
To fight hostile activity from Russia, May committed to enhancing cybersecurity measures and tightening rules on Russian money entering the UK.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson will travel to Moscow in the coming months, which the Prime Minister said will provide an opportunity to engage with the leadership in the Kremlin.
“We do not want to return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation,” she said.
In wide-ranging address on the importance of maintaining global order, May emphasised the role that free markets and UK businesses will play in the years ahead.
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Free markets, she said, were an important defence against conflict and had helped deliver wealth to communities across the globe. And UK companies were likely to flourish “where the rule of law holds sway” as foreign businesses sought out reliable partners.
She said this attitude would underpin the UK’s effort to secure “the best possible Brexit deal”, one which benefited both sides, and upheld liberal values.
“For this is fundamental to our success, to that of our partners and that of the world,” she said.