The British people are so dull-witted, numptified and sheep-like that they stupidly voted Leave. They were conned by a claim emblazoned on the side of the bus. No, we apologise: let’s try again. The real villain of the piece was an American called Mercer.
Sorry, can we have another go? Forget the United States. It was Russia – responsible for swinging the referendum by nefarious skullduggery on social media for which we have no evidence. And there in a nutshell you have why Remain lost in 2016, kept losing last December, and is now lost altogether.
The suggestion that the proles didn’t really understand what they were doing – are too dense to know and (by implication) shouldn’t be allowed to decide, with real power being transferred to an expert-led “Citizen’s Assembly” – has done more than any other single factor to take Britain out of the European Union. Keep digging, my friends.
The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report, overseen by the neutral figure of its former Chairman, Dominic Grieve, is in danger of becoming Remain’s Last Gasp, in the manner of the Moor’s Last Sigh. It was once the Right that was taken with Reds under the bed. Now it is the Londoncentric centre that sees Russians actually in it.
None of which means that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t clamber between the sheets if he had the chance, or that he isn’t trying to. Russia is a malign actor: we know that from the Salisbury outrage, if we had somehow missed the point before, or failed to notice the Russian planes that get buzzed off our airspace or submarines that troll our waters.
Nor was the Brexit-focused hysteria yesterday, amplified by the BBC, altogether fair to the committee (though, on the subject of British interaction with Russian fronts, we have a few questions that we wouldn’t mind putting to Stewart Hosie, prominent in its press conference yesterday, about Alex Salmond and Russia Today).
After all, the committee didn’t accuse the Government of somehow seeking to direct the security services away from a referendum inquiry. Rather, it said that Ministers and the security services must step up their efforts to fight Russia’s cyber and other efforts on the beaches, so to speak, which is right.
Yes, Russian dirty money has been allowed to accumulate in London over the years. And, yes, the Conservative Party and others should be very wary about taking money from wealthy Russians who have settled here. Just as the rest of us should be very careful not to assume that any such person is a Putin agent.
We make the point in the wake of Andrew Gimson’s recent profile on this site of Ben Elliott, the co-Party Chairman who is in effect the real Party Chairman, which probed the question of why Robert Jenrick was allowed to sit at the same table as Richard Desmond during a CCHQ-vetted dinner last year.
Elsewhere, Tom Newton-Dunn reports that the 1922 Committee Executive have given Elliott and Amanda Milling, the co-Chairman, a roasting on this very point. The Desmond and Jenrick affair has nothing to do with Russia. But a common point applies: when it dines with potential donors, CCHQ must deploy a long spoon.
Furthermore, it doesn’t follow that because the British people made a free choice when they voted for Brexit that our electoral system adequately safeguards that freedom. How could it, when the discredited Electoral Commission, whose treatment of our columnist Darren Grimes was a national scandal, is still in place?
The Commission should be swept away. But such action would be only the start, not the end, of real electoral reform throughout our entire democratic system. What was crafted for the age of imprints on leaflets is out of date for the age of pixels on screens. Modernisation is overdue.
Let’s end by assuming that Russia wanted the UK to leave the EU, as it evidently wished the SNP to win the 2014 independence referendum, and ask ourselves what it would then want in consequence. Here are some outcomes it certainly wouldn’t want.
It wouldn’t want the Magnitsky sanctions which Dominic Raab has championed since he was a backbencher, and is now putting into effect in government. It wouldn’t want the other Dominic’s drive to put cyber at the heart of British defence policy.
It wouldn’t want a Britain committed to NATO – and one of the minority of members within it that meet the 2.5 per cent minimum spend. If its aim was to separate British foreign policy from the EU’s foreign approach, it wouldn’t want the Government taking much the same position on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
If its objective instead is to separate the UK from the U.S, it wouldn’t want the focus in parts of the Conservative Party, bordering at times on the obsessive, about a British-American trade deal. It wouldn’t want Number Ten drawing up schemes for a D10 of liberal democracies of which Russia would not be a member.
The most remarkable and under-reported aspect of Britain’s foreign policy since Brexit has been not change, but continuity. Russia’s shadowy presence is a menace to our security. But it would be counter-productive for fear to render it bigger than it actually is.
Putin is capable of miscalculation no more or less than most of the rest of us. If he hoped that the leaving the EU would detach the UK from its foreign policy and security alliances, it’s fair to say that there’s no evidence of that happening so far, and quite a lot to the contrary.