Raab hints at UK refuge for backers of detained Kremlin critic Navalny

Britain is open to the prospect of granting refuge to supporters of the detained Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Foreign Secretary has suggested.

Dominic Raab told MPs he has held “detailed discussions” with Home Secretary Priti Patel about the UK’s response when asked about support for Mr Navalny and human rights defenders in Russia.

Labour also criticised the lack of UK Government action against Moscow, claiming none of the 21 recommendations of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian interference have been implemented.

Germany Russia Navalny
Germany Russia Navalny

The report, published in summer 2020 although initially completed before the 2019 general election, found the UK was “clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations” and said an independent inquiry was necessary to protect British democracy.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Russia will not take seriously British warnings over the detention of Mr Navalny until action is implemented to disrupt “dirty money” networks, including those in London.

Mr Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport on Sunday after spending five months in Germany recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on Moscow.

His detention has been condemned by governments around the world, with Mr Raab previously urging Russia to immediately release him.

Russia Navalny
Russia Navalny

Speaking in the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) said: “I wonder if I could ask what discussions the Foreign Secretary has had with the Home Office about granting refuge to the supporters of Alexei Navalny and indeed any human rights defenders in Russia, should they want it or need it?”

Mr Raab replied: “I’ve had detailed discussions with the Home Secretary about the response to this and other examples of hostile state action.

“Of course we have one of the most open and generous asylum systems in the world and we continually focus the support we provide for civil society groups, including media organisations both in Russia and Belarus.”

Earlier, Ms Nandy warned: “The Foreign Secretary had strong words about the arrest of Alexei Navalny but he knows those words won’t be taken seriously by Moscow until the UK takes action to disrupt the networks of dirty money on which this regime depends.

“How many of the Russia report recommendations have now been implemented?”

Mr Raab said he is “absolutely appalled” by the “politically-motivated” detention of Mr Navalny, adding: “It’s a Kafkaesque situation, frankly, when, instead of dealing with and supporting the victim of this Novichok poisoning, he has been arrested.

“She (Ms Nandy) will know we’ve taken action, including imposing sanctions on six individuals and the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, and we’re leading efforts in the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), which is the real action that will send a message to Russia.”

Ms Nandy countered: “He seems to be struggling with the answer to this, so I can tell him that the answer is none – of 21 recommendations made 15 months ago, the Government has implemented not a single one.

“No action on foreign agents, no action on golden visas, and the London laundromat is still very much open for business.

“But can he not see the problem that, for as long as the City of London acts as a haven for dark money, he can tweet all he likes, but those words will be met with nothing but derision in Moscow.”

Alexei Navalny was the victim of a cowardly chemical weapons attack. He has shown great courage in returning to his homeland. His detention is unjustifiable and an insult to the Russian people. He must be released immediately and his attackers brought to justice.

— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) January 17, 2021

She added: “We know the laws in this country on espionage and foreign interference on British soil are not fit for purpose.

“So will he commit to this House today that he will bring forward legislation to fix this great big gaping hole in our defences, not in the coming months, not at a date to be determined but before this House rises for recess next month?”

Mr Raab again defended the UK’s actions against Russia but did not reply directly to the question on new laws.