Brexit Bulletin: Russian Meddling

  • Facebook agrees to widen investigation into possible foreign intervention
  • Probe comes as the debate about a second referendum gains momentum

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Facebook is widening its investigation into possible Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum, a move that could play into the growing debate about whether a second vote should be held.

Facebook and Twitter had previously told U.K. lawmakers they had found minimal use of their platforms compared to the more comprehensive Russian misinformation campaign ahead of the U.S. election. But lawmakers wrote back, demanding Facebook take another look, and the company agreed.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Facebook said it would look for coordinated activity to spread misinformation ahead of the vote, Adam Satariano reports. The company said it would take several weeks to complete the review, and asked U.K. authorities to share intelligence assessments and other information that could help.

Other probes on the referendum, which produced a knife-edge result of 52 percent to 48 percent, are under way. The Electoral Commission in the U.K. is investigating the financing of the Leave campaign, after lawmakers called for a probe into whether “dark money” played a role. A parliamentary committee has said foreign governments may have been responsible for a crash in the voter registration website, and even Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of meddling in elections, without ever mentioning the Brexit vote. 

As talk of a second referendum gains momentum, investigations into what happened in the run-up to June 23, 2016, take on more importance. Not only would evidence of Russian interference bolster the case for a rematch, but it would provide the anti-Brexit camp with ammunition to argue that leaving the EU goes against the national interest. Whether enough voters will be paying attention is another question.

Brexit Latest

Diplomatic Tapestry | Theresa May meets French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday with the backdrop of Brexit talks – and the reputation the French are getting in Brussels for taking a hard line on the divorce. France is due to lend the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain for the first time. It’s a diplomatic outreach but with a sting in the tail – the tapestry depicts the invasion of England by William the Conquerer, complete with King Harold getting an arrow in his eye.

Come Back | A day after urging May to reverse Brexit before it happens in March 2019, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the U.K. can always re-apply for membership after leaving. Juncker cited the EU treaty’s Article 49, which invites any European state that respects the bloc’s values to apply for accession. “We are not throwing the British out, we would like the British to stay, and if they so wish, they should be allowed to do so,” Juncker said. “I would be happy to facilitate that.” May’s spokesman was quick to decline the offer.

We’re Still Here | The Irish border question remains unresolved despite the assurances May gave last month in a last-minute effort to break a deadlock in the Brexit talks, Dara Doyle writes. The issue “hasn’t gone away, you know,” Irish Brexit negotiator Rory Montgomery said late on Wednesday, adding that May has to reconcile conflicting pledges. 

NHS Exodus | Brexit is adding to the winter health crisis. More nurses from EU countries left the National Health Service in England than joined it last year, according to figures provided by NHS Digital. The loss of EU workers threatens to pile pressure on stretched hospitals and community health services, where almost one in 10 nurses is a national of another European country.

NHS Digital

In the Lords’ Hands | The EU Withdrawal Bill, which prompted rebellions late last year in the lower house, cleared a vote in the House of Commons and now goes to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face opposition from anti-Brexit peers. Almost 50 Labour lawmakers rebelled against their party’s leadership to vote for an amendment calling for continued membership of the single market. Meanwhile, Justine Greening, who recently resigned from May’s Cabinet, called on lawmakers to make sure that Brexit worked for young people, saying that otherwise the next generation of lawmakers would seek to “improve or undo” it.

Right to Fly | The EU may attempt to strip British airlines of some flying rights after Brexit, with officials in Brussels warning that U.K.-based carriers could see their ability to compete across the bloc impeded, Ian Wishart writes. The details emerged after a meeting of the European Commission and diplomats from the remaining 27 EU countries, where the bloc’s negotiating position on post-Brexit aviation links was sketched out.

Dutch Trouble | The Dutch government has called on companies to prepare for Brexit in time, as a report showed that the hit to Dutch companies from a no-deal divorce would be as much as €627 million a year. The government also offered companies help. The Netherlands is one of the countries with most to lose from Brexit, and Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said earlier this week that EU member states hit hardest by the divorce shouldn’t also have to help plug the hole in the bloc’s budget.

On the Markets | Sterling rose to the highest since June 24, 2016, the day after the referendum when the result became clear. Expectations of rate increases are boosting the currency, along with hopes Brexit will be softer than some investors feared. It traded at $1.3828 early on Thursday. 

And Finally...

Theresa May’s hopes of thawing frosty relations with Donald Trump at a meeting on the slopes of Davos next week look to be fading, Tim Ross reports.

With Anglo-American relations coming under strain, the British prime minister’s team wanted to schedule a catch-up conversation between the two leaders during the annual World Economic Forum gathering in the Swiss resort.

Yet it now seems the pair will only overlap in the town for a few hours, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential. There’s still a chance that the president and the prime minister will manage to meet for a brief conversation, though coordinating their diaries is proving difficult, they said.

Trump and May in January 2017.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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