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by Kate Forrester
22 July 2020
Boris Johnson considers ‘new spying law’ in wake of damning Russia report

Image credit: Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images

Boris Johnson considers ‘new spying law’ in wake of damning Russia report

Boris Johnson is reportedly considering toughening up Britain’s security laws in the wake of a damning report on its response to the threat posed by Russia.

The Times says ministers could agree to a central demand of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) long-awaited report by introducing a US-style “register of foreign agents” — with jail or deportation floated for non-compliance.

The US act requires individuals working on behalf of foreign governments or political parties to register with the authorities and provide and update on their activities — a move intelligence chiefs told the committee would help prevent Russian influence in the UK.

The suggestion of a legislative overhaul came as Labour said the ISC’s 50-page report had exposed "deep, systemic failings" in ministers' approach to security.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has tabled an urgent question on the issue in the Commons on Wednesday, has claimed “on every level the government’s response does not appear to be equal to the threat".

The report, published on Tuesday, called on the government to establish whether Moscow interfered in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

It also warned of a string of links between Russian oligarchs connected to the Kremlin and political organisations and charities in the UK, and confirmed a host of attempts to hack British infrastructure.

“The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia exposes deep systemic failings in government approach to security," Thomas-Symonds said.

“This report outlines the scale of the shortcomings of the government’s response to maintaining our national security in the face of what is clearly a growing and significant threat from Russia.

“The report outlines a litany of hostile state activity, from cyber warfare, interfering in democratic processes, acts of violence on UK soil and illicit finance."

The shadow frontbencher accused ministers of having "no overall strategic response to this challenge".

He added: “The UK has world leading security services, yet this report makes clear they have not received the strategic support, the legislative tools or the resources necessary to defend our interests. The government need to urgently outline how they will address these systemic failings.

“The report should also sound alarm bells ringing that other countries that wish the UK harm are undertaking similar activities and are not facing a sufficiently robust response.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has insisted the government is "not complacent" about the threat, and "categorically" rejected the committee's claims ministers had avoided looking for evidence of Russian interference.

“Russia is a top security priority. We call out Russia when it's necessary," he told a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday.

“We’ve shown that in relation to the cyberattacks on research and development facilities in the US, UK and Canada.

“We've done that together with our partners, and we are not for a second complacent about the threat Russia poses when it comes to cyber.”

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