Martin Plaut

Journalist specialising in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa

Britain

What is the real role of Boris Johnson’s key aid?

Labour asks about Dominic Cummings’ years working in Russia

Source: Sunday Times

A whistleblower has prompted questions on vetting the PM’s top adviser

Concerns have been raised about Dominic Cummings’ spell in Russia between 1994 and 1997
Concerns have been raised about Dominic Cummings’ spell in Russia between 1994 and 1997CHRIS J RATCLIFFE

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser, is facing questions from Labour over his past activities in Russia after a whistleblower came forward to raise “serious concerns” about the three years Cummings spent there after graduating from university.

The whistleblower has approached senior Labour politicians to raise questions about the “relationships” that Boris Johnson’s chief of staff may have developed with people involved in “politics, intelligence and security” when he worked in Russia between 1994 and 1997.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has written to her Tory counterpart, Dominic Raab, to ask what level of security clearance Cummings was granted when he joined Johnson in Downing Street in July.

In the letter, which has been copied to Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary and national security adviser, as well as the heads of MI5 and MI6, Thornberry asked whether Cummings has been “developed vetted” (DV), which would grant him access to the government’s most sensitive intelligence.

Vetting of people applying to work in government posts involves a detailed interview by security officials looking for anything that might compromise them. The checks involve a review of intelligence databases, personal finances and cross-examination of referees, who could include friends and family.

Thornberry asked whether Cummings’s past raises “concerns” about him being granted “access to the highest levels of classified material, or given such high levels of influence over UK government policy”.

She added: “I feel duty-bound to put to you the concerns raised with the Labour front bench by a whistleblower whose motives we have no cause to question.”

A Whitehall source with knowledge of the vetting process said Cummings, who is in overall charge of government strategy, had been awarded DV status by the Cabinet Office. However, the source also claimed that officials still prevent Johnson’s de facto chief of staff from seeing some aspects of government business.

The Cabinet Office said: “We do not comment on individuals’ security clearance.”

The news comes as Downing Street is accused of sitting on a parliamentary report on the security threat posed by Russia to the UK, which examined allegations that Kremlin-sponsored activity distorted the result of the 2016 EU referendum. Cummings masterminded the Vote Leave campaign.

Dominic Grieve MP, chairman of the cross-party intelligence and security committee, said he had expected Johnson to approve publication of the 50-page dossier by last week — and there was now a risk it would not emerge before the general election.

He said: “What has absolutely astonished me is the mendacity of the response from the No 10 press office, which I do take to be linked to Cummings. They have come up with a series of utterly bogus explanations why it can’t be published now, and they really are whopping lies.”

In her letter, Thornberry also asks whether Cummings was questioned about his relationships with members of the group Conservative Friends of Russia, which his Vote Leave co-founder Matthew Elliott had links to.

Elliott attended one of its receptions and went on a 10-day trip to the country organised by the group, which aimed to strengthen relations between Britain and Russia.

However, it was quickly shut down when it emerged that its diplomatic contact at the Russian embassy, Sergey Nalobin, had family ties to Russia’s intelligence agencies. Nalobin later left the UK.

Cummings declined to comment.

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