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The UK’s Foreign Influence Registration Scheme: further enhancing the UK’s national security toolbox

Last September, the UK Government introduced the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS) by way of amendment to the National Security Bill (the Bill). 

After facing criticism for restricting various benign overt actions of non-UK organisations, businesses and charities, the FIRS was narrowed before the Bill received Royal Assent on 11 July 2023.      

The Bill was first placed before the House of Commons on 11 May 2022 in response to increased hostile activity against the UK by foreign states, in particular the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury in 2018.

Pertinently, following the poisonings in Salisbury, the Intelligence and Security Committee’s 2020 Russia Report recommended that the UK Government should consider introducing a “Foreign Agents Registration Act”, akin to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), to help counter Russian influence in the UK.  

Overview of the FIRS

The FIRS, now set out in Part 4 of the National Security Act 2023 (the Act), is the UK’s answer to the FARA and, together with the new offence of foreign interference also introduced in the Act, has a twofold purpose: to strengthen the resilience of the UK political system against covert foreign influence and provide greater assurance around the activities of specified foreign powers or entities.

The FIRS establishes a two-tiered approach, as outlined below.

Political influence tier

The political influence tier seeks to increase transparency of foreign power influence in UK political affairs. It requires the registration of “foreign influence arrangements” to carry out political influence activities in the UK or to arrange for such activities to be carried out in the UK, at the direction of a foreign power. “Foreign power” is defined broadly, and includes sovereigns, foreign governments, and agencies of foreign governments.  However, it does not include the Republic of Ireland, or foreign political parties which are not the governing party of a foreign government.   

Once the arrangement with the foreign power has been made, it will need to be registered with the Secretary of State within 28 days of being made. Registrations will be completed through an online portal, and no fee is required.  

Political influence activities include any communications to public officials such as UK ministers, MPs, local government, election candidates and senior civil servants. It also encompasses public communications (unless it is reasonably clear that it is made at the direction of a foreign power), and provision of money, goods or services to UK individuals or entities.

To be registerable, the activity has to be carried out for the purpose of influencing UK public life, for example, elections or referendums, decisions of a Minister or government department or members of either House of Parliament.

Enhanced tier: “foreign activity arrangements” 

The enhanced tier captures a broader range of activities and is meant to be a safeguard against activities linked to “specified persons” (i.e., specified foreign powers or entities subject to foreign power control) which are a potential risk to UK safety and interests.  The Secretary of State has the power to designate these “specified persons” through regulations, subject to Parliamentary approval.

The enhanced tier requires the registration of “foreign activity arrangements” with the Secretary of State within 10 days of the arrangement being made. A foreign activity arrangement refers to the carrying out of or arranging to carry out relevant activities within the UK at the direction of a specified power or entity. The person making the arrangement with the specified body is responsible for registration.  

There is also a separate requirement for specified foreign power-controlled entities to register prior to carrying out relevant activities in the UK. By default, “relevant activities” includes all activities. However, where appropriate, the government may narrow the scope of “relevant activities”, allowing for the requirements to be tailored to the risk posed by the foreign power or entity being specified.


The Act identifies particular categories of persons who will be exempt from registration.  These include:

  • those providing legal services in respect of both tiers;
  • domestic and international news publishers, but only in respect of the political influence tier; and
  • arrangements to which the UK is party to for both tiers.


Offences are punishable by up to two years imprisonment (under the political influence tier) or up to five years imprisonment (under the enhanced tier) and/or an unlimited fine. 

Next steps

Ahead of the requirements under the FIRS coming into force likely next year, the UK Government will be publishing detailed guidance. A draft of the guidance is now available, and it is open for consultation until 1 December 2023.


The Act represents a sea-change in the UK’s approach to so-called “counter-interference” activities and will sit alongside other legislative tools that have bolstered the UK Government’s ability to intervene in economic activities for national security-related reasons such as the National Security and Investment Act 2021 and the Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021. Companies that are likely to be impacted by the FIRS should begin thinking about how they will comply with the scheme ahead of it coming into force.

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