After the EU referendum, suspicions grew about the role of Russia in clinching the narrow ‘win’ for Brexit.
Evidence was mounting that there had been deep involvement and interference by Russian ‘agents’ whose aim was to destabilise the EU by enabling Britain’s departure from it.
It was no secret that Russia’s Prime Minister/President, Vladimir Putin, held a long-term simmering resentment about the end of Russia’s ‘empire’ that had spanned a huge expanse of Europe.
In 2005 he declared:
“the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster”
Shortly after the referendum, in 2017, I penned an article called, ‘Back to the USSR?’
I asked then whether the choice may come down to this:
- Do we support a European Union, that brings together our family of European countries in peace and prosperity; a cohesion we should not disrupt or harm with Brexit?
- Or do we support a new kind of Soviet Union, in which once again we lose those countries which only a short time ago re-joined us, and want to stay with us in our Union of Europe?
A win for ‘Leave’ was all part of that agenda.
On 15 November 2017, The Guardian’s front page led with the headline:
‘RUSSIA BACKED BREXIT IN FAKE TWITTER POSTS’
The Guardian reported:
‘Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit.’
On the same day, The Times ran a front page with similar claims about Russia’s meddling with Britain’s referendum:
‘RUSSIA USED WEB POSTS “TO DISRUPT” BREXIT VOTE’
The Times reported:
‘Russian Twitter accounts posted almost 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during last year’s referendum in an apparently coordinated attempt to sow discord.’
Research by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California in Berkeley, had claimed that more than 150,000 accounts based in Russia switched their attention to Brexit in the days leading up to the referendum vote.
Apparently, the messages were automatically created by ‘bots’ or cyborg accounts, and the analysis suggests they were viewed hundreds of millions of times.
The Times said that most of the tweets they had investigated:
‘encouraged people to vote for Brexit, an outcome which Russia would have regarded as destabilising for the European Union.’
At the time, Tory MP, Damian Collins, then chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, commented:
“This is the most significant evidence yet of interference by Russian-backed social media accounts around the Brexit referendum.”
Mr Collins added:
“The content published and promoted by these accounts is clearly designed to increase tensions throughout the country and undermine our democratic process.
“I fear that this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”
▪ RUSSIAN DENIALS
The Russian government strongly denied that it interfered with the EU referendum.
President Putin said after referendum vote:
“We closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it.”
But there was little doubt that many in the Moscow hierarchy welcomed the Brexit outcome.
And remember, Putin in early 2022 lied about Russia having no plans or intentions to invade Ukraine, just as he was about to invade Ukraine.
Nothing he says can be trusted (unfortunately, that’s also the case with the utterances of some of our own politicians, most especially Boris Johnson).
Commented The Guardian about the claims that Russia had interfered in the referendum:
‘An EU without Britain would be less united on sanctions against Russia, many Russian officials hoped, because it would lose one of its stronger foreign policy voices and would be too consumed with its own internal problems to prioritise Russia policy.’
Immediately after the referendum, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said Britain’s vote to leave the EU was
“a giant victory for Putin’s foreign policy objectives”.
Dennis McShane, a former Minister for Europe and Labour MP, commented after the referendum:
‘The Russian president told Bloomberg in September 2016 that Brexit would lead to a smaller EU.
‘Putin has always resented having to deal with the EU and insisted that only bilateral relations mattered for Russia.’
Mr McShane added:
‘If more evidence surfaces that the narrow Brexit result was influenced by an unfriendly foreign power, it will be harder to argue that a stolen poll should be the final word on Britain’s relationship with its friendly neighbours.’
▪ FORMER COMMUNIST COUNTRIES
Most of the former European countries and territories that had been shackled behind the Iron Curtain for decades decided to join the European Union after they won their freedom over 30 years ago.
Those former Communist countries are now proud of their independence as returned-members of our European family, as part of the EU.
Their economies thrived once out of the Soviet Union bloc and once in the European Union bloc.
But many of these countries fear that Russia wants its old territory back.
In July 2017, Russia sent 2,500 troops to its border near Latvia and Estonia, making the people of those countries worry that their giant neighbour was planning conflict and annexation.
Newsweek reported at the time:
‘Concern has been mounting for years among some European officials over whether Russia could strike the Baltics following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.’
Anxiety about a possible war in the Baltics remains high, with most citizens of Lithuania and Latvia citing armed conflict as their prime concern.
This was especially the case in 2014 when Russia illegally ‘annexed’ Crimea, part of Ukraine, and more so after Russia commenced a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, which is still raging.
Russia had formally denied it would ever attack a member of NATO, which the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are.
But the promises of Moscow diplomats have done little to assuage worries in the former Soviet Union states that are now established members of the EU.
In October 2017 Der Spiegel magazine reported on a leaked NATO report that it would be unable to repel a Russian attack on its Eastern European members.
Poland as well as Scandinavian and Baltic member states feel threatened by Russia and have urged the alliance to bolster its eastern flank against possible aggression.
Are we going to see an attempt by Russia to try and recreate something similar to the USSR?
▪ GOAL OF LEADING BREXITERS
Before and during the referendum, several prominent Brexiters expressed that their goal was to see the end of the European Union.
Conservative MP Steve Baker, one of the government’s many former Brexit negotiators and now Minister of State for Northern Ireland, said in 2010 that he wanted to see the European Union “wholly torn down.”
Michael Gove, MP, now the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, made similar comments during the referendum.
He said, “Britain voting to leave will be the beginning of something potentially even more exciting – the democratic liberation of a whole continent.”
He described Britain’s departure from the EU as “a contagion” that could spread across Europe.
The then UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, in May 2013 told Talk Radio Europe in Spain that he wanted to see “Europe out of the European Union” – in other words, the disintegration of the EU.
On the morning after the referendum, with his his party’s dreams realised, Mr Farage made clear that there was unfinished business with the EU. He said in his 4am victory speech:
“I hope this victory brings down this failed project … let’s get rid of the flag, the anthem, Brussels, and all that has gone wrong.”
The aims of some Brexiters appeared to be closely aligned with the apparent aims of Putin: the diminishment or demise of the European Union.
▪ THE MOUNTING EVIDENCE
Since my ‘Back to the USSR’ report in November 2017 there’s been mounting evidence of Russian interference in British politics generally, and the EU referendum specifically.
In December 2017, Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, following mounting concerns about Russian interference, asked in Parliament if the UK government had “tasked our intelligence and security services with investigating Russian subversion as a high priority?”
He added that his information was that “the government has not.”
Another Labour MP, Liam Byrne, also pointed out that of the 45 new parties created in Europe over the last 10 to 20 years, “you can now see that a clear majority have some sympathy with Russia.”
“Germany’s AfD, Austria’s FPO, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, the Front National in France, the Northern League in Italy, and indeed UKIP, have all taken pro-Russian positions on matters of huge national interest.”
UKIP had very close links with Russia, he said.
“Nigel Farage, of course, had famously said that President Putin was the leader he most admired back in 2014.”
In addition: “UKIP has consistent positions of support in the European Parliament in favour of Russian annexation of Crimea.”
“I think it would be naïve of us to think that Russia was not trying to intervene here in this country.”
After blocks to publication by the Johnson government, in July 2020 Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee finally published a heavily redacted version of their ‘Russia Report’ that they had completed in March 2019.
Their report investigated allegations of Russian interference into British politics, including alleged Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
The Committee concluded that,
“..the government had badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required.”
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP told Parliament in March 2022 that the ‘Russian Report’ warned, “that there was credible, open-source evidence of attempted Russian interference in UK elections.”
She added that the report:
“painted a picture of how Russian state influence in the UK is the new normal with deep links between the Russian elite and UK politics, and that crucially, the intelligence community had, in its words, taken its eye off the ball on Russia.”
In July 2020, Labour MP Chris Bryant, told Parliament, “I have been warning about Putin’s Russia for 19 years now.”
“What mystifies me is that government ministers are still giving out golden visas to dodgy Russian oligarchs, that government ministers are still granting exemptions to dodgy Russian oligarchs so that they can hide their businesses in in this country.
“And I am mystified that government ministers are still taking millions of pounds from dodgy Russian oligarchs.”
A year later, in March 2022 and a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr Bryant revealed to Parliament that:
“The Daily Telegraph from 2007 to 2017 received £40,000 a month for ‘Russia beyond the headlines’ which was paid for by the Russian government – Russian propaganda.”
“And I simply point out that Nigel Farage received from ‘Russia Today’ £548,573 in 2018 alone – from the Russian state.”
On 23 February 2022 – in the eve of the start of Russia’s full scale assault of Ukraine – the then SNP leader in the Commons, Ian Blackford, said during Prime Minister’s Questions:
“Under the Tories, a sewer of dirty Russian money has been allowed to run through London for years.”
He added that he had raised with Boris Johnson in 2017 that 113 limited partnerships in the UK had been used to move $20.8 billion out of Russian banks – “corruption on an industrial scale.”
Mr Johnson had done nothing about it, claimed Mr Blackford, despite being warned five years previously.
“The truth is that Russian oligarchs who give the right people in power a golden handshake have been welcomed in London for years…
“And plenty of these golden handshakes just so happened to find their way into the coffers of the Conservative Party.”
The UK government’s failure to investigate evidence that Russia infiltrated Britain’s politics in general, and the EU referendum in particular, has prompted three cross-party MPs – Ben Bradshaw (Labour), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Alyn Smith (SNP) – to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court has agreed to hear the case that the government’s decision not to order an independent investigation into Russian interference was unlawful.
If it’s proven that Russia had interfered with the EU referendum, this would be a breach of the democratic right to free and democratic elections as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court has given the UK government until 26 April 2023 to respond to specific questions about the allegations before deciding whether to progress with the case.
▪ MY CONCLUSION
Putin’s fingerprints are all over Brexit. There’s been suspicions of this for some time, but the evidence is now compelling and urgently needs proper investigation.
Motive is the key incentive for any crime. There have never been any benefits for Britain doing Brexit. Not even one. Any apparent motive for leaving the EU was based on a pack of astonishing, outrageous lies.
But the benefits to Russia from Brexit are both clear and enormous.
For almost two decades, Putin has harboured antagonism over the loss of the Soviet empire, to be successfully replaced by the enlargement of the EU, encroaching on what he considered to be Russian territory.
We no longer had a ‘cold war’ with Russia, but now we can start to understand how instead, Russia conducted an insidious ‘soft war’ against the EU, with the motive of weakening European democracies to further Russian interests.
- Brexit was all part of that game plan.
- Dirty Russian money awash in the UK was all part of that game plan.
- Russian money donated to the Tory party and other politicians now looks like that game plan.
Now the ‘soft war’ has become vicious, hard, and military – a real war.
Russian trolls initially hired to advance Putin’s purposes have become Russian tanks, out to usurp Ukraine and destroy its democracy, and any chance of the country joining NATO or the EU, even though that is the wish of the Ukrainian people.
The EU is under direct attack by Putin’s fanatical despotism. The future of Europe, of democracy, of freedom, of human rights, of European collaboration and cooperation and of everything else the EU stands for, is at risk.
A vote for Brexit was a vote for Putin, but voters are not to blame.
The lies that led to Brexit, in part fuelled and funded by Putin, were compelling, convincing, and used the powerful techniques of psychological warfare.
All of us were misled.
But now Britain and Britons must decide where we stand and which side we support. Our political elite allowed our country to become a stooge for Putin’s nefarious intentions, with absolutely no benefits to us.
But the reality is that it’s the EU we should be supporting, not Putin.
The EU stands for what Britain and Britons really stand for and have always stood for.
We must support the EU project and start our journey – however long it takes – to rejoining our true family in Europe. That would be the most powerful message we can send to Putin, whose aim all along was to use our country to get at the EU.
Damage has been done with our relations with our EU allies, but it is repairable. That is, if we start that repair process now, before it really is too late.
- Watch my 10-minute video summarising growing evidence of Russian interference in UK democracy.
- Watch my 8-minute video about Boris Johnson and the Russian Connection:
- VITAL VIEWING: Watch ‘Boris, the Lord & the Russian Spy: Dispatches‘ On Channel 4. The full story of Boris Johnson’s friendship with press baron Evgeny Lebedev and his dad Alexander, an ex-KGB spy, revealing the secret fears of security services. Watch it at: https://www.channel4.com/programmes/boris-the-lord-the-russian-spy-dispatches
- (Simply register for free on Channel 4 to watch)
- Share on Twitter:
My feature article today provides a compendium of evidence and arguments on why A VOTE FOR #BREXIT WAS A VOTE FOR #PUTIN ▪ On LinkedIn: https://t.co/slbrEmrLbw On my EU ROPE blog: https://t.co/d2oxGgQaU0 pic.twitter.com/QwMeRfbLwk
— Jon Danzig #FBPE (@Jon_Danzig) June 28, 2023