UK security services set for extra powers after damning report on Russian threat

Security services in the UK are set to be given extra powers to try to prevent foreign interference following a damning report from MPs on the potential threat posed by Russia.

It is understood UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will strengthen counter-espionage laws following the report by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

The move comes with Labour poised to go on the offensive on the issue on Wednesday, Parliament’s final sitting day before the summer recess.

Labour has accused the Government of failing in its response to the security threat posed to UK democracy by Russia, after the long-delayed ISC report insisted London was too slow to recognise Moscow’s menace to British democratic processes.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Downing Street on Tuesday (Hannah McKay/PA)</figcaption>
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Downing Street on Tuesday (Hannah McKay/PA)

It has been suggested the UK could introduce a “register of foreign agents” like the ones in place in the US and Australia as part of a stronger move against foreign interference in internal affairs.

Under the American system, people who work for foreign governments and officials have to register with US Justice Department and file reports about their activities.

The ISC report said the UK Government was slow to recognise the potential threat posed by Russia to British democratic processes and did not properly consider whether Moscow could interfere in the Brexit referendum until after the event.

It concluded the UK only belatedly realised the threat to political processes despite alarm bells ringing over the 2014 Scottish referendum.

The intelligence agencies and Government departments treated the issue as a “hot potato”, with nobody effectively tackling the problem, the committee said.

The report was drafted by the ISC’s members in the last parliament. Its publication was delayed by Mr Johnson’s decision to call a general election and by the slow process of appointing a successor committee.

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