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Brexit, the ministers, the professor and the spy: how Russia pulled strings in the UK

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Last weekend, the Observer asked why Nigel Farage has not been questioned about his connections to the Trump-Russia investigation, particularly regarding his relationship to Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website published thousands of internal Democratic party emails in the run-up to the US election. But last week’s revelations introduce a whole new cast of characters. And at the centre of it all is London – this “neutral city” – playing the same strategic role that Vienna did during the cold war.


Alok Sharma

 Alok Sharma: met Mifsud several times. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

“The entire city is a nest of spies,” a British intelligence source told the Observer this year. “There’s more espionage activity here now than there was even at the height of the cold war.”

On 25 April 2016, the world had no clue about Papadopoulos, about Trump and Russia, or about the man quickly identified as the “London professor” – a 57-year-old Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud. Reached by journalists, Mifsud confirmed that the US indictment refers to him but denied any knowledge of its claims about links to the Kremlin, or of knowing about “dirt on Hillary” in “thousands of emails”.

But what the document does not spell out – and what the Observer has learned – is that both Mifsud and Papadopoulos also had links into the heart of the British government.


We publish evidence today of several confirmed meetings between Mifsud and Alok Sharma, the MP for Reading West and a Foreign Office minister until June this year. It was this relationship between Mifsud and Sharma that put the “London professor” directly into the orbit of the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, two weeks ago – at a fundraising dinner attended by both Johnson and Mifsud, with Mifsud telling a colleague he was returning to London from Rome to “have dinner with Boris Johnson … re Brexit”.

The Foreign Office has confirmed that a third minister, Tobias Ellwood, met Papadopoulos at the UN general assembly in September 2016. Ellwood ignored multiple attempts by the Observer to contact him and has refused to comment on how the contact was made or what was discussed.

Three Foreign Office ministers approached in three different ways. Yet when asked last week if there was any evidence of Russian interference in British politics, Johnson said: “I haven’t seen a sausage.”

Johnson cannot have been looking very hard. He is far from the first senior politician to be targeted – a group that includes some of his closest colleagues in the Leave campaign. Because what the Observer and Guardian’s investigation into foreign influence in the EU referendum is starting to reveal is that the tentacles of US influence and money, and Russian influence and money, reach much deeper and further into the British political establishment than we have yet understood.

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