A former MI6 officer who wrote a dossier about alleged links between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin said the UK needs new laws to deal with influence from foreign states like Russia and China.
Christopher Steele said UK legislation is not “fit for purpose” and called for people working on behalf of foreign countries to be registered, like in the US and Australia.
The Home Office said a foreign agent registration scheme will be introduced as part of forthcoming legislation to counter hostile activity from overseas.
Mr Steele told the BBC the threat is not from classic espionage – stealing secrets using spies – but through foreign states using people to exert influence on policies.
“The word is out there that we’re a bit of a soft touch, that we don’t have regulators with teeth and we don’t have legislation which is up to date and fit for purpose,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme
“We’re not talking about espionage. What we’re talking about is there is a lack of transparency in Britain about the way in which foreign actors, in particular those emanating from authoritarian states, are exerting influence over our policies.
“We’re way behind, I think, our allies in this, in particular America and Australia.”
The former spy was behind the so-called Steele dossier, published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, about alleged links between former US president Mr Trump and Russia in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
A highly critical report published last year by MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee said the UK Government had “badly underestimated” the threat from Russia.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Government will introduce a foreign agent registration scheme as part of forthcoming legislation to counter hostile activity by states.
“This follows consideration of similar laws in like-minded countries including the US and Australia.”