Jeremy Corbyn has said the “evidence points towards Russia” over the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal .
The Labour leader responded today to pressure from within his own party to point the finger of blame at Moscow.
Backbench MPs and shadow ministers had urged him to unequivocally pin the attack on President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
But despite singling out Russia today, Mr Corbyn again stopped short of doing so.
Instead he told Sky News the source of the deadly Novichok “appears to be Russia – either from the state or from a rogue element of the state.”
He added: “The evidence points towards Russia on this.
“Therefore the responsibility must be borne by those that made the weapon, those that brought the weapon into the country and those that used the weapon.”
Earlier shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said “it would have been easier for us” if the Labour leader had made it clear he backed the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.
But Mr Corbyn told reporters: “I was extremely definite yesterday that I totally condemn this attack. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
At least two Shadow ministers were said to be considering their positions last night after the Labour leader said he did not believe there was proof the Kremlin was behind the attempt on the ex-spy’s life.
A former frontbencher told the Mirror: “People are f***ing livid, aghast at what he said.”
Mr Corbyn’s refusal to blame Moscow came despite him being shown secret evidence on Privy Council terms.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman then deepened the row by insisting there were still “two possibilities” – either Russia committed the act, or simply lost control of the nerve agent.
Britain’s damning retaliation measures against Russia
- 23 of Russia’s 58 London diplomats expelled. They must leave within a week in the biggest expulsion for 30 years
- All planned high-level UK-Russia contacts suspended
- UK ministers and Royal Family will boycott the 2018 World Cup
- Invitation for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s UK visit rescinded
- A new ‘Magnitsky law’ to strengthen sanctions on human rights abusers
- Urgent new laws to ‘harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity’
- This will include a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border. This is currently only allowed for terror suspects
- Increased checks on private flights, customs and freight
- Freeze Russian state assets if they may be used to threaten life or property of UK nationals or residents
- Other covert measures that “cannot be shared publicly for reasons of National Security”
Crucially the spokesman added British intelligence had been “problematic” before – such as about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq.
In a furious Labour row, several MPs swiftly signed a motion saying they “unequivocally accept the Russian state’s culpability.”
Labour’s stance was initially backed by France, which said it needed “proven” evidence that the nerve agent was used by the Russian state.
But France, Germany, the US and UK later signed a joint statement saying Russia was the only plausible culprit.
Mrs May directly blamed Moscow and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the evidence pointing at a hit by the Russian state is “overwhelming”.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “There is no doubt where this attack came from – it came from Russia.
“It is time for our whole country to unite behind the Prime Minister, give her our full support, make it clear as a nation that we stand together.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said if something “swims like a duck and quacks like a duck” it’s probably a duck.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The evidence is overwhelming that it is Russia.
“There’s something by the way in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard from the Russians that to me indicates their fundamental guilt.”
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in a critical but stable condition 11 days after they were found slumped over a bench in Salisbury.
What is Novichok, the deadly nerve agent?
By OLIVER MILNE
This group of nerve agents was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s and is said to be up to ten times stronger than VX.
Novichoks – meaning ‘newcomer’ in Russian – were designed as “binary weapons”, meaning they are comprised of two relatively harmless ingredients that only become deadly when mixed together.
This makes them easier to transport, handle and gives them a much longer shelf life than other nerve agents.
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former head of Britain’s Chemical, Biological Radiation and Nuclear regiment told the Express: “It is designed to be undetectable for any standard chemical security testing.
“Skripal would only have needed to touch it, as he opened a parcel, for it to be absorbed into his bloodstream.” Read more here.