'Almost certain' Russia tried to interfere in UK general election, says Dominic Raab

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Leaked government documents highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn during last year’s general election were almost certainly “amplified” online by “Russian actors”, the Government has said.

The papers relating to UK and US trade talks were used by the then Labour leader to back his claims that the Conservatives were preparing to “sell off” the NHS.

"We're in a position now to say that we believe that know with reasonable confidence that Russian actors were involved in trying to interfere with the 2019 election."

In a written statement, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that while "there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable".

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said it was “nonsense” to imply the government made the statement on Thursday to detract from a row over the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Backbench MP Julian Lewis had the Conservative whip stripped amid claims he colluded with Opposition MPs to chair the committee over No.10 favourite Chris Grayling.

ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo on allegations that Russian actors interfered in 2019's general election and that hackers linked to the Russian intelligence agencies are targeting British scientists seeking to develop a coronavirus vaccine

The government has said the hotly-anticipated report into Russian interference in UK politics will be published before Parliament rises for the summer next week after Prime minister Boris Johnson was heavily criticised for blocking its publication ahead of last December’s general election.

In a written Commons statement Mr Raab wrote on Thursday: "On the basis of extensive analysis, the Government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.

"Sensitive Government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit. When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the General Election.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refuses to answer questions whether he knew anything about Russian interference as he arrives at his north London home on Thursday

"Whilst there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable. It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections.

After Labour highlighted the documents at a press conference in November, Reddit – an online discussion site – said that its own investigation had linked the appearance of the documents to a previous Russian disinformation campaign.

The papers were believed to have appeared online some months earlier but attracted little attention until they were picked up by the Labour campaign.

Mr Raab said that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation” into how the documents were obtained.

In a statement on Thursday, former leader Jeremy Corbyn said the documents the party revealed during the general election were "genuine" and said the Tories were seeking to distract from "the threat to the NHS and the Tory party links to Russian oligarchs".

Jeremy Corbyn referenced the leaked emails in a speech. Credit: PA

On Facebook, the Islington North MP wrote: "The documents we revealed during the general election about the danger of a Trump trade deal for our NHS were genuine - as is the threat of a £500 million a week higher drugs bill.

"The Tories want to distract from the damage a Trump trade deal would do to our NHS by continuing to push the bogus claim Labour received Russian support. Today’s government claim is an attempt to divert attention from the threat to the NHS and the Tory party links to Russian oligarchs expected to be revealed in the long-buried parliamentary Russia report.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “The reported actions of the Russian intelligence services are wrong and should be condemned.

“The Labour Party is committed to working with the Government to protect the UK’s national security and safeguard our institutions from foreign interference – none more so than those leading the international effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The long-overdue Russia report must now be made public, and the Foreign Secretary come to the House of Commons and provide MPs with concrete steps that will be taken to protect the UK from these kind of foreign cyber-attacks.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed Mr Raab’s “ambiguous” and “confusing” statement.

She said the UK had admitted there was “no evidence of full-scale interference” by Russia.

"The statement is so foggy and contradictory that it is almost impossible to understand. If it's inappropriate to say something, then don't say it. If you do say it, then produce the facts," a spokesperson for th eRussian embassy said.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed on a bench near the Maltings in Salisbury in March 2018 Credit: ITV Meridian

Following the Skripal attack in Salisbury in 2018 when former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a deadly nerve agent Novichok, then prime minister Theresa May said it was "highly likely" Russia was behind it.

Referencing Mrs May's chose of words, Ms Zakharova said: "The British government has correctly decided that it is time to move on from the phrase 'highly likely.'

"Now they are using a different phrase. Today the British government has bestowed a new pearl upon us - now it is 'almost certainly.' This 'almost certainly,' is a replacement for 'highly likely,' but the tactic is the same."