“The nature of these reports is that they do contain sensitive information, which is why they need to go through an appropriate period of vetting to make sure that they are safe to then be released. That’s what’s happened here.”
Rishi Sunak, Good Morning Britain
Rishi Sunak was answering questions as to why the government had not published the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report into Russian interference in British democracy.
Sunak also said the report was received by No. 10 “near the end of October” and that, to his understanding, it is “typical with reports like this, they take up to six or seven weeks to clear all the vetting processes they have to go through because of the sensitive nature of the information they contain. That is perfectly normal. That’s what happened here."
The ISC report was completed in draft form in late March. It then went through the usual three stage process of vetting and clearance with Whitehall and the intelligence agencies. The first stage involves fact checking. In the second stage the committee and intelligence services agree on redactions in the interest of national security. In the third stage, outstanding disagreements between the committee and the intelligence services are settled at a senior level. After this process of vetting, it was submitted to the prime minister on 17 October.
When I spoke to Dominic Grieve he told me “the six week period is a fantasy.” He added “There can be no need to consult over redactions because those redactions have already been agreed and therefore the report was already cleared for operational national security reasons. The statute says that while it’s true that the prime minister has an overriding right to veto publication, if he is going to use the veto, he has to inform the committee as to his reasons. Boris Johnson has never given a reason. The explanation is entirely bogus. He simply did not wish to see this published before the election took place.”
Rishi Sunak’s claim on national television was misleading because by the time the report was submitted to Boris Johnson on 17 October it had already gone through a long period of due diligence with the intelligence services to ensure it was accurate and did not compromise national security.