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Security services set for extra powers after damning report on Russian threat

It is believed Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to beef-up counter-espionage laws.

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The Commons is set for a fiery debate on Wednesday over alleged Russian meddling in British democratic processes (PA)

The Commons is set for a fiery debate on Wednesday over alleged Russian meddling in British democratic processes (PA)

The Commons is set for a fiery debate on Wednesday over alleged Russian meddling in British democratic processes (PA)

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

It is understood Prime Minister Boris Johnson will strengthen counter-espionage laws in the wake of the bombshell study 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.

Speaking ahead of an urgent question in Parliament on Wednesday, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said that “on every level, the Government’s response does not appear to be equal to the threat”.

Mr Johnson is likely to face a grilling on the situation in the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the parliamentary session.

On every level the Government’s response does not appear to be equal to the threatNick Thomas-Symonds

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

“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.

“On every level the Government’s response does not appear to be equal to the threat.

“While on key issues it is clear that there is no overall strategic response to this challenge – little wonder the Government have been so keen to delay the publication.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Downing Street on Tuesday (Hannah McKay/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Downing Street on Tuesday (Hannah McKay/PA)

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Downing Street on Tuesday (Hannah McKay/PA)

“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.”

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.

In an explosive commentary, the ISC said the 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.

The ISC report 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 Government said there was “no evidence” of successful Russian interference in the Brexit vote but the committee – which oversees the work of Britain’s spies – suggested there was no proper investigation.

MI5 provided just “six lines of text” when asked whether there was secret intelligence on the issue of potential Russian meddling in the referendum.

But the Government – led by a prominent Brexiteer in Mr Johnson – has rejected the committee’s call for a full analysis of whether Vladimir Putin’s government did attempt to influence the result of the 2016 vote.

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.

PA