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Issued: 2018-03-12

By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline and Kate Ferguson, Political Correspondent For Mailonline and Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline

Published: 18:12 EDT, 11 March 2018 | Updated: 18:30 EDT, 12 March 2018


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Theresa May dramatically pointed the finger at Vladimir Putin tonight over the nerve gas attack on a former spy.

The Prime Minister said the facts increasingly suggested Russia was behind the apparent 'hit' on double-agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

Branding the attack a 'reckless and despicable act', Mrs May said the substance used was a 'military grade' agent Moscow has produced.

Together with Russia's previous actions and tactics, including the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, the UK authorities had concluded it was 'highly likely' to be involved in the episode.

In a tough statement updating MPs after a meeting of the National Security Council, Mrs May raised the prospect of significant retaliation - making clear that the UK is already consulting Nato and other allies.

'It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,' Mrs May said.

'This is part of a group of nerve agents known as novichok.'

Russia's ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office at 3.45 for a 'cool but firm' meeting with Boris Johnson. There was no handshake between the politicians as Mr Johnson outlined the 'outrage' felt by the British people.

Branding the attack a 'reckless and despicable act' this evening, Mrs May said the substance used was a 'military grade' nerve agent Russia has produced

Sergei Skripal (left) and his daughter Yulia (right) have been in a critical condition since they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4

Mrs May, who was flanked by (from right) Boris Johnson, security minister Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Amber Rudd for her statement this evening, said she would unveil retaliatory measures on Wednesday after giving Russian time to respond to the evidence

She added: 'Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world leading experts at the laboratory at Port Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be cap able of doing so, Russia's record of conducting state sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views defectors as a legitimate target for assassination the government has concluded that it is highly likely Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.'

Mrs May said Boris Johnson had summoned the Russian ambassador in London this afternoon and informed him of the findings.

The Kremlin has been given a deadline of tomorrow night to respond to the evidence and the government could outline its 'detailed' retaliation on Wednesday.

'Should there be no credible response we will conclude that his action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, and I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response,' she said.

Mrs May said the government would not accept such an attempt to 'murder innocent civilians on our soil'.

'This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent on a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, it was an indiscriminate ad reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk,' she said.

'And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.'

Expel diplomats:

Britain could expel Russia's ambassador and other diplomats based at the embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens - round the corner from where Prince William and Kate live.

If MI5 have tabs on a Russian spy ring in the UK, Britain could take this poison plot as a reason to expel them.

Impose sanctions:

Britain already has an extensive range of sanctions against Russia as a result of the invasion of crime and eastern Ukraine, but we could extend them.

The UK could also impose sanctions on named individuals if they are linked to the murder attempt.

Britain could pass the 'Magnitsky List' mirroring US laws imposing travel bans on senior Kremlin officials responsible for the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a prison in 2009.

World Cup boycott

Official representation could be withdrawn from the World Cup in Russia if Kremlin links are proven.

Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs last week that the Government would “look at whether ministers and other dignitaries should attend” the tournament in that event.

The Duke of Cambridge has already said he has no plans to attend.

There have been calls for the England team to boycott the tournament but their withdrawal would probably have little impact.

A coordinated protest, involving the withdrawal of multiple countries, would be far more effective in damaging Vladimir Putin’s showcase international event. However, experts say the nerve agent poisoning is unlikely to create enough international momentum to trigger a wider boycott.

Statement of condemnation

Britain may call on the support its closest allies if there is evidence of a Russian murder attempt on UK soil.

A joint statement of international condemnation could be issued from leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, warning Russia that such actions will not be tolerated.

But the Russian Russian Foreign Ministry showed little sign of readiness to explain itself, immediately deriding Mrs May’s remarks as a ‘circus show’.

Counter-terrorism police and intelligence officers are thought to have presented compelling evidence at the NSC meeting that Moscow ordered the hit in Salisbury over a week ago.

MPs from across parties voiced support for Mrs May's robust reaction to the outrage on UK soil.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew shouts and jeers as he criticised the government for failing to 'talk' to the Kremlim and complained about Tory donations from Russian business figures.

'We need to continue seeking a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues dividing our countries, both domestic and international - rather than simply cutting off contact and simply letting tensions and divisions get worse, and potentially even more dangerous,' Mr Corbyn said.

He faced shouts of 'shame' and 'disgrace' from Conservative MPs as he told the Commons: 'We're all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics.

'Meddling in elections, as the Prime Minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.'

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith branded Russia a 'rogue state' and demanded the 'most severe' response.

He said: 'If we appease a country like this, then we should expect even worse.'

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat said the use of nerve gas was a 'war like act'.

Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper said a cross-party stand was needed against Russian aggression.

In an interview with the Evening Standard earlier, Home Secretary Amber Rudd pointed out that Mr Putin had jibed in a Russian TV interview about not being able to forgive 'betrayal'.

She said: 'I'm not going to enter into a kind of great big tit-for-tat with them, which is what they are longing I'm sure for us to do.

'Because when attribution comes we have to be absolutely cool-headed about it. Other people can carry on making their comments.

'I think that the general public are wise enough to take a dim view of that kind of childish joshing.'

Mrs May hinted that the prospect of pulling the England team out of the football World Cup was not being considered.

Asked about the team, she suggested officials could boycott the event but did not go further.

The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.


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