The government must launch a full “Mueller-style” investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum, Labour’s deputy leader has demanded in a letter to Jeremy Hunt.
In an address penned to the foreign secretary on Thursday, Tom Watson said it was “impossible to understand” why the UK was dedicating so much time to investigating the infiltration of Vladimir Putin’s regime abroad while “ignoring glaring concerns here at home”.
“We know that the Leave campaign broke legal spending limits, although we have not yet had any clarification about where the money donated by their biggest funder, Aaron Banks, came from,” he wrote, adding that the Leave.EU co-founder visited the Russian embassy “multiple times” in the run up to the referendum.
Meanwhile, “as many as 150,000” Russian-linked Twitter accounts were posting about Brexit in the run up to the vote, Watson told Hunt, as well as Russian accounts that were also active during the 2016 presidential election.
“It is astounding, particularly given the tough words from the Prime Minister in the wake of the Salisbury attack earlier this year, that none of this information has come to light thanks to the government,” the senior Labour MP continued, going on to slam the government’s “disappointing” response to these revelations.
“This is not about undermining the result of the 2016 referendum. This is about defending our democracy and protecting ourselves from foreign infiltration and influence.”
Watson concluded: “I have called for a Mueller-style full public inquiry into Russian interference in the referendum with the power to force unwilling participants to co-operate. Does the Government oppose such an inquiry or will you grant one?”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been contacted for comment on Watson’s letter.
The Labour deputy leader’s call comes on the same day it was revealed that the Dutch and UK authorities had thwarted a spying operation by Russia’s military intelligence into the body responsible for investigating chemical weapons.
The attack targeted the headquarters of the OPCW in Hague, the global body analysing samples of the Novichok nerve agent that Britain accused Russia of using to try to murder former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
A team of four GRY officers travelling on official Russian passports entered the Netherlands on April 10 under the codename AP28 before parking a car carrying specialist hacking equipment outside the headquarters of the OPCW in the The Hague three days later.