The UK government is looking at tough new security laws, including a registry of foreign agents, following the publication of the long-awaited Russia report. The report, documenting alleged Russian interference without providing any evidence, is expected to be used by the government to give more powers to domestic counter-intelligence agents.
Tara McCormack, Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Leicester, believes that the Russia report provided no new evidence and voiced doubt that a TV programme or an ad in social media could be powerful enough to influence voters, as the report is trying to suggest.
Sputnik: How would you evaluate the handling of the Russia report: the delay in its publication, the allegations without evidence and these supposedly new laws which are being drawn up by government?
Tara McCormack: Well I suppose one of the interesting things about the “Russia Report” is that it’s very thin really, and I’m quite surprised, in a way that the government sat on it for so long because really far from having any new evidence, there’s very little in there. So, there’s really not much that is new. As far as I can see, having read it, the main thrust of the report is the kind of idea that Russian propaganda is sowing social unrest in Britain and again, of course, Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik are held up, as you know, major agents of propaganda. Again, we’ve seen this in the discussions on Russiagate in the States. This has been discussed in the UK recently over Brexit and here we have again this idea that a few TV programmes, maybe some Facebook ads from the Moscow Internet Research Agency, are so powerful, that they are literally influencing voters to vote on extremely significant issues but there is no evidence included there.
Sputnik: How will the British public react to this report? Do they believe or even care about these claims being made?
Tara McCormack: I don’t think that outside of the Westminster bubble many people will be that interested. I would have thought that to the extent that people, again outside of the Westminster bubble do engage with this, the effect will be a little bit the opposite of what I presume, has been intended in that I guess if you are sitting in Hartlepool having voted to leave the EU or if you are sitting in Glasgow having voted for independence for Scotland, you’re basically watching the BBC, Sky, Channel 4 telling you that the reason you voted that way is because of what RT said or some Facebook ads.
So my thought would be that this report will simply continue or drive forward a growing kind of sense of disconnect between the average voter and what’s called the Westminster bubble, which seems quite determined, as we saw in America to basically tell us the voters that the reason we voted as we did, is because we were brainwashed and to me that seems a bit of an own goal – not a very sensible approach to say the least.
Sputnik: What effect will this have on the UK’s image abroad, particularly on the international stage? Could this have a negative impact for Britain, particularly with Brexit on the horizon and the urgency to agree on trade deals, with the rest of the world?
Tara McCormack: I think there’s an element of the British state running a kind of pound shop version of America’s Russiagate at the behest to some extent of the American state, or certainly parts of the American state, because I think we see that in terms of the sudden focus on China as well. So, it is difficult to tell really how that will fall out to the extent that any of it will be discussed in Europe. Will it have any bearing on negotiations between Britain and the EU post Brexit? I doubt it really, but again I just don’t know. I guess in a way Europe would probably pay as much attention to it as we do to internal French reports.
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