Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said there is no evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 Brexit vote and therefore the UK secret services did not need to investigate the allegations.
Shapps’s statement came the day after lawmakers finally released the delayed Russia report. It said the government failed to investigate possible Russian interference in the EU referendum and said Russian influence in the UK was the “new normal”.
The transport secretary today defended the government’s decision not to investigate. “There needs to be some evidence that there’s an issue there – which there isn’t,” he told Sky News.
“I don’t think it’s the case that the intelligence services took their eye off the ball,” he added.
The report – which the government sat on for nine months – yesterday said successive governments has “welcomed” Russian oligarchs “with open arms”.
It said London provided opportunities for powerful Russians to launder illicit money. It said they have also gained “connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures”.
The report also said there could have been attempts by the Kremlin to influence the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2014 Scottish independence referendum. But it said the “actual impact of such attempts on the result itself would be difficult”.
Shapps rejects Brexit inquiry
The intelligence and security committee that released the report said the government should have assessed potential threats.
It called for an inquiry into the Brexit referendum, in advice the government yesterday rejected.
Shapps reiterated the position today, saying: “The report doesn’t show any evidence of [Russian interference] and the intelligence agencies would have flagged it.”
Read more: Russia report: What were the key findings?
He said the government was mulling new legislation to tackle foreign interference. “We are looking at additional powers to look at the activities of hostile states and that may include introducing new laws,” he said.
“This isn’t the end of the road as far as this is concerned.”