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UK 'Top Target' for Russian Federation, says Intelligence and Security Committee report

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LONDON ENGLAND- JULY 21 Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a face-to-face meeting of his cabinet team of ministers the first since mid-March at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

But the Intelligence and Security Committee said it could not rule out any attempted interference in that poll because the government "actively avoided" investigating it.

"What is clear is that the government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat - only understanding it after the "hack and leak" operation against the Democratic National Committee, when it should have been seen as early as 2014", the report said.

MPs said they were unable to come to any firm conclusions as the current government or its predecessor had not ordered any investigation due to an apparent "lack of curiosity".

Stewart Hosie, a committee member and member of Parliament for the opposition Scottish National Party, accused the government of "actively avoiding" allegations of Russian meddling, which he said was unforgivable after evidence emerged that Moscow had interfered with the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the U.S. presidential election two years later.

"We therefore question whether Government took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism: it was the opinion of the committee that until recently the Government had badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat - and is still playing catch-up", the report reads.

A long-awaited report by parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) had been expected to shed light on possible Kremlin interference in the landmark vote that saw Britain leave the European Union.

The committee said it had to question whether the United Kingdom government "took its eye off the ball", arguing that it had "badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat".

"Russia has never interfered in the electoral process of any country in the world, not in the United States, not in Great Britain, nor in other countries", he told reporters.

Gould-Davies said Russian Federation could not have achieved the type of influence it has in Britain without the support of "vested interests" within the country. "We don't do such things and we won't tolerate other countries' attempts to interfere in our political affairs", Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said on July 21.

Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, played down the report's significance, saying: "It was no sensation". Yet Johnson, who said past year he had read the document, was seen as dragging his feet over its publication.

Critics claimed that was meant to shield Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party from embarrassment.

Originally submitted to the prime minister last October, the report was subject to repeated postponement - first for a national security review of its contents and then for the appointment of new committee members.

The parliamentary report was finished over a year ago, but the Johnson government said it was held back because of the December 2019 general election. Further holdups were caused by delays in appointing new members to the Intelligence and Security Committee. "We do not see any point in interference because for us, whether it will be [the] Conservative Party or Labour's party at the head of this country, we will try to settle relations and to establish better relations than now".

Another parliamentary panel - the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee - previously published the results of its own inquiry into disinformation and "fake news", which called on election regulators and law enforcement to investigate reports that a British businessman with links to Russian Federation donated £8.4 million ($15 million) to the Brexit campaign.

The parliamentary report, which contains evidence given from British spy agencies, has drawn comparisons to the investigation and report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"The decision of the Government to sit on it for nine months, the explanations they put forward for having done so, were just untrue", Mr Grieve said, "they were incredible and not worthy of any belief".

Also last week, Britain, America and Canada accused Russian cyberspies of trying to steal coronavirus vaccine related research.

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