The UK needs to create new laws that force agents of “hostile, adversarial, and authoritarian states” to register and disclose their activities in the UK, a new report says.
The report (pdf), published on Wednesday by Conservative MP Bob Seely and foreign policy and national security think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said the UK’s archaic Lobbying Act is not capable of dealing with agents and proxies of foreign states.
“The UK is influence peddlers paradise at the moment,” Seely said on Wednesday during a report-launching webinar.
“Hostile state activity, since the 1990s has become more subtle, more complex in many ways, and more broad.”
Although it’s common for governments to use lobbying to influence other countries, “a number of hostile, adversarial, and authoritarian states—including, but not limited to, China and Russia—have utilised lobbying as part of their operations to undermine the West,” the report reads.
“These operations take place in the so-called ‘grey zone’ between ‘peace’ and ‘war’, where the distinction between state and non-state, the public and private domains, have grown increasingly blurred.”
The report recommends the UK government adopts new laws to tackle foreign interference from hostile states, including “elite capture,” media or social media campaigns, and campaigns to influence elections and policies.
The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Australian Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act (FITSA) are cited as examples after which the UK could model its new laws.
Australian High Commissioner to the UK George Brandis QC told the webinar that he was the attorney general who was tasked by the then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to develop the FITSA and the Espionage and Foreign Interference Act.
“Both of those pieces of legislation were designed in consultation with the other Five Eyes nations, including, of course, the United Kingdom,” he said.
Australian author Clive Hamilton said the legislations has had some effect in his opinion.
“In talking about the prophylactic effect, … my perception is, as an expert in foreign interference, Chinese, CCP [Chinese Communist Party], interference in Australia, there does appear to be some change in the modus operandi of China in Australia,” he said.
Edward Lucas, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said that smaller states such as Finland and Czech Republic also have a lot to offer in terms of countering foreign interference, as they have been dealing with this for “longer and more deeply” than the UK has.