For the first time, the new legislation will force those acting for a foreign power or entity to declare political influence activities and criminalize those who do not.
This change is being brought about by the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), which was introduced to the UK Parliament through an amendment to the National Security Bill.
The bill brings vital new measures to protect our national security and modernize existing counterintelligence laws to address covert influence.
The new scheme will increase the transparency of political influence activity being carried out for a foreign power or entity; help safeguard UK democratic institutions from covert influences; and better inform ourselves about the nature, scale, and extent of foreign influence in our political affairs.
The public record will exist on a government website for political influence activities.
Tom Tugendhat, Minister for Security, said:
Unfortunately, there are people who are secretly working to undermine UK democracy and harm our citizens.
For years I have advocated the establishment of a foreign influence registration scheme to deter foreign powers from pursuing their nefarious goals through the covert use of agents and proxies.
I am delighted that the scheme we are introducing will help ensure that our political affairs are protected, while also embracing open and transparent engagement with foreign governments and entities that we continue to welcome.
Ken McCallum, Director General of the Security Service (MI5), said:
The UK is in strategic competition with states seeking to undermine our national security, democratic institutions and trade advantages on an unprecedented scale. We need new and modern tools and powers to defend ourselves, proportionately but firmly.
Together with the other vital measures introduced in the National Security Bill, the new Foreign Influence Registration Scheme will make it more difficult – and riskier – to operate covertly in the UK at the behest of a foreign power. It will also increase openness and transparency around the scale of foreign influence in our political affairs and make it more difficult for our adversaries to undermine our democracy. The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme is a modern power designed to deal with a modern threat, and I welcome its inclusion in the National Security Bill.
The scheme will be 2 levels.
The primary level will require registration of political influence activities within the UK at the direction of a foreign power or entity. The person would have to state who they are in an agreement with, what activity they have been instructed to do, and when the agreement was made. They must do so within 10 days of the address, or in any case, before the activity takes place. Foreign entities will also be required to register their own political influence activities before carrying them out.
Notable exceptions to those who would need to register include those working for a foreign power in their official capacity, those with diplomatic immunity, those providing legal services, those working for foreign and domestic news publishers, and those in an agreement to which the government of the United Kingdom, or someone acting for or on behalf of the Crown is a party.
The penalty for failure to register, engaging in unregistered activities, providing false or misleading information, or any other foreign influence offense is a maximum of 2 years in prison, a fine, or both.
The enhanced level allows the Home Secretary to specify a foreign power or an entity controlled by a foreign power where necessary to protect the security or interests of the United Kingdom and, with Parliamentary approval, to make it an offense for any person to carry out any activity in the UK at your address without it being registered. There are no restrictions on which states could be named to allow the UK to respond to emerging threats from any foreign power. The penalty for these crimes is up to 5 years in prison, a fine, or both.
Other powers added to the bill include those to protect UK interests from corrupt financial influence, covered by ‘Powers of arrest and detention’. This will give investigators the power to monitor a suspect’s account in real time; identify accounts held by suspects at UK financial institutions; and compelling individuals or organizations to provide relevant information, produce documents, and/or answer questions in connection with an investigation into threat activity by a foreign power. Obtaining a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service will also be criminalized.
The National Security Law Project is currently undergoing parliamentary proceedings.