By Anna Gray
In her recent foreign policy intervention, Theresa May took the opportunity to attack Russian interference in elections and their role in spreading ‘fake news’. She accused Russia of “weaponising information” in the wake of increasing evidence of their interference in the US 2016 elections, and called for a judge-led inquiry into potential Russian influence on the Brexit vote. May’s attack represented an important recognition from the government about the potential threat posed by Russia, setting the tone for Boris Johnson’s visit to Moscow later this year.
However, whilst the evidence against Russia is certainly building, there has been no specific revelation in the last month to prompt May’s attacks, which raises the question: why she chose this topic for such an important address?
Many expected the Prime Minister’s speech to focus on Brexit. While Mrs May talked about the importance of a good Brexit deal to enable the UK and Europe to stand strong against their enemies, these attacks on Russia were perhaps an attempt to distract people from the stagnating Brexit process. Alternatively, May’s firm tone may have been an attempt to reassert her ‘strong and stable’ image, despite the irrevocable damage caused by the June election.
May proclaimed in her speech, “we know what you’re doing.” Whilst this sends out a firm message, it is superficial. She did not accompany this with any policy details. Surely the government needs to propose ways of identifying and shutting down Russian “troll factories,” which disseminate fake news on social media sites? Moreover, with Leave.EU, a key campaign group in the Brexit referendum, regularly retweeting Russia Today and the Russian Embassy, the government needs to commit to an inquiry into possible Russian interference in the UK.
Whilst May’s speech was certainly a firm statement, it was only superficially strong and stable.
Photograph: Larry Koester via Flickr