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6 November 2019

Why is Downing Street blocking publication of a report on Russian interference in UK politics?

The reason is less likely to be the report’s contents than a grudge against Dominic Grieve.

By Stephen Bush

Downing Street is under fire for delaying a report by Parliament’s intelligence and security committee into alleged acts of espionage, interference and sabotage by the Russian government in elections – including the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 election. Unlike most of Parliament’s scrutiny committees, its members are appointed, not elected by MPs, and undergo security clearance in order to do their work – which remains classified until it is given the all clear by the security services.

This report has received the all-clear but has yet to receive Downing Street’s, with Boris Johnson expected to sit on the report until after the election is resolved. Dominic Grieve, the departing chair of the committee, has released a strongly-worded statement criticising the government’s inaction, and several former members of the security services have called on the report to be published.

What can possibly be in it to justify the delay? Several well-placed sources are of the view that the report cannot be particularly explosive, as the security services have signed it off with relative speed, and I’m told by several familiar with its contents that the actual report is not politically transformative. Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson reports that neither Johnson nor his chief strategist Dominic Cummings are named in the report. 

The reality, too, is that a detailed report is seldom, if ever, as damaging as a running story about a cover-up, which dominates the headlines at the expense of the Conservatives’ preferred election messages. 

So why hasn’t it been published? MPs, civil servants, and Foreign Office officials think that it is a result of a personal animus towards Dominic Grieve, held particularly strongly by Cummings but shared by several others in Downing Street. 

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One reason why some Conservative MPs were pleased that Cummings would not be running the campaign, but that Isaac Levido would be doing so, is that they thought it meant that the election battle would be less likely to be blown off course by Cummings’ tendency to cross the street to pick a fight. But just because Downing Street’s militant tendency isn’t in control of the election campaign, that doesn’t mean they can’t complicate its path back to office.