Parliament in the United Kingdom is conducting an investigation into Russian meddling in the country’s politics. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks to Damian Collins, a Conservative member of Parliament who is leading the investigation.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
I’m Mary Louise Kelly in London where people are asking some of the same questions that have been dominating Washington of late. What might Russia be doing to mess with their politics? Just as in Washington, investigations are underway into whether Russia collaborated with the Trump campaign. Here in London, they are asking whether Moscow tried to push Brexit, and the man leading that investigation here at Parliament is named Damian Collins. He’s an MP. His committee is leading that probe, and we’ve come here to talk to him.
Collins’ office is down a long wood-paneled hall, other MPs and their aides scurrying past. We settled into two enormously overstuffed armchairs, and I dove right in.
Is there evidence of Russian interference in British politics? I know there’s a lot of smoke. Is there fire?
DAMIAN COLLINS: Well, there is some fire, yes. We know that Russian agencies were involved in using Twitter to try and spread messages during the Brexit referendum. We know there was intent to do that on Facebook during the referendum as well, although the amount of money spent directly in the same way that it was spent in the American presidential election campaign seems to be a lot smaller.
KELLY: I should mention your committees run the hearings here for Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, some of the things we’ve also been holding hearings on in the U.S.
COLLINS: That’s right. Now, we’ve also been looking at Russian involvement in other elections in Europe as well, and we’ve also looked at the way in which their official news agencies, which are really, you know, controlled by the state – the way they seek to dominate debates as well. So they were very active during the Brexit referendum in pushing out messages there, and they were also very active around the Salisbury poisoning.
KELLY: The Novichok poisoning…
COLLINS: The Novichok poisoning as well. So…
KELLY: …Of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
COLLINS: Yeah, that’s right. And if you went to Facebook news feed and search for news stories about the poisoning in Salisbury, you would find that maybe in the top 10 searches, the BBC might be in the top two, but the rest will probably be stories all coming from Russian sources. And what they’re seeking to do is create enough doubt or to pose questions that are difficult to answer so you disbelieve what the BBC and other news outlets are saying.
KELLY: In very recent…