Russian actors “sought to interfere” in last winter’s general election by amplifying an illicitly acquired NHS dossier that was seized upon by Labour during the campaign, the foreign secretary has said.
Dominic Raab’s statement is the first time ministers have admitted that the Kremlin has tried to distort the workings of British democracy – a practice the foreign secretary said was “completely unacceptable”.
“On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents,” Raab said in a written statement.
British intelligence has been investigating for several months how a 451-page dossier of official emails ended up in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign. The then Labour leader said the dossier showed the NHS “was on the table” in trade talks with the US.
Raab said he was issuing an update as to the progress of that investigation – just days before the expected publication of the long-awaited Russia report by the intelligence and security committee, which was blocked from release by Boris Johnson before the general election.
The dossier – believed to have been obtained via a government special adviser’s personal email account – had been posted on Reddit for some weeks, and a Twitter user called Gregoriator tried to bring it to the attention of various celebrities and journalists. Eventually it was innocently spotted by a pressure group and passed to Labour.
“Sensitive government documents relating to the UK-US free trade agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 general election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit,” Raab said.
“When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run-up to the general election.”
The foreign secretary said a criminal investigation was ongoing.