Jeremy Corbyn sparked uproar yesterday by refusing to criticise the Kremlin over the Salisbury attack.
He was accused of appeasing Vladimir Putin and was disowned by Labour MPs for failing to back Theresa May’s tough stance against Moscow. His chief spin doctor also came under fire after questioning the reliability of the security services, which have briefed Mr Corbyn on the nerve agent outrage.
In an apparent reference to the Iraq War, Seumas Milne said intelligence reports on weapons of mass destruction had been ‘problematic’. Mr Milne, who shared a platform with Mr Putin in 2014, even suggested an unknown party might be framing Russia over the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Jeremy Corybn, pictured, asked the PM whether she handed over a sample of the toxic nerve agent over to the Russian government so they would be able to analyse it themselves
Last night, 16 Labour MPs signed a motion supporting the action taken by the PM
Both Jeremy Corbyn and his spin doctor Seumas Milne, left, have faced criticism over their comments concerning the Russian nerve gas attack
Mr Corbyn asked the Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday whether she had responded to Moscow’s request for a sample of the nerve agent. Last night 16 Labour MPs signed a motion saying they ‘unequivocally accept the Russian state’s culpability’ for the attack and fully supported the position taken by Mrs May.
Commenting on Mr Milne’s intervention, MP Anna Turley said: ‘Seumas doesn’t speak for my Labour or British values’. Several shadow ministers were said to be considering whether to quit in disgust.
As Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain had ‘arrived at a profound moment in our history’ where we could either ‘sit back or step forward’:
- He also announced British troops are to be vaccinated against anthrax following the nerve agent attack;
- The Prime Minister issued marching orders to 23 suspected Russian spies;
- Moscow warned of revenge and said there could be tit-for-tat expulsions;
- A sample of the Russian-made Novichok nerve agent is being sent for analysis by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;
- Lib Dem leader Vince Cable called for action to target the wealth of Russian oligarchs in London;
- Government sources said Mrs May would not order the England team to boycott the World Cup in Russia;
- Security minister Ben Wallace said ministers had not ruled out invoking the Nato rule requiring allies to defend a member state facing attack;
- Energy analysts warned a coming cold snap could leave the UK dependent on Russian gas;
- It emerged that the former British husband of Russian spy Anna Chapman had died at the age of just 36.
Mr Corbyn had been under pressure from his own side to get tougher on Moscow after refusing to issue any condemnation in the Commons on Monday.
Instead the Labour leader launched into a detailed series of questions about the nature of the nerve agent used – questions which appeared remarkably similar to those being asked by Kremlin officials. And he provoked uproar by suggesting the crisis was caused in part by cuts to the diplomatic corps.
Speaking after Theresa May had updated MPs, Mr Corbyn said: ‘The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war – it is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.
‘Can the Prime Minister update the house on what conversations, if any, she has had with the Russian government and while suspending planned high-level contact does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential to maintain a robust dialogue with Russia?
‘We should urge our international allies to join us and call on Russia to reveal without delay full details of its chemical weapons programme.’
On diplomatic service budgets, he said: ‘It is, as we on these benches have expressed before, a matter of huge regret that our country’s diplomatic capacity has been stripped back, with cuts of 25 per cent in the past five years.’
His stance shattered a Labour truce under which moderates have refrained from openly criticising him.
Yvette Cooper insisted it was vital that Russian aggression was met with unequivocal condemnation.
In a pointed rebuke to Mr Corbyn, Ben Bradshaw, another former Labour Cabinet minister, told Mrs May: ‘Most of us on the Labour benches fully support the measures she has announced today.’
Pat McFadden said: ‘Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership. There is a Labour tradition that understands that.’ One Labour MP said Mr Milne’s comments were a disgrace, adding: ‘Putin’s craven, constant and shameful apologist might just as well stand aside and let the Kremlin write the speeches and brief the media directly.’
The Prime Minister said she was sorry Mr Corbyn had failed to take the chance to condemn Russia. She described Mr Milne’s comments as ‘wrong and outrageous’.
Former Tory minister Nick Boles said: ‘Today Jeremy Corbyn faced a simple test – would he condemn the Russian government for launching a chemical weapons attack on the UK, and back the actions of the British government? His failure to do so reveals where his loyalties lie.’
Philip Ingram, a former senior intelligence officer at GCHQ, also condemned the Labour leader. ‘What Corbyn is doing is playing into Putin’s hands,’ he said. ‘He is showing national political fraction and not unity – this is disgusting.’
Meanwhile, it was claimed last night that a Russian couple were caught on CCTV in Salisbury moments before Colonel Skripal and his daughter were found poisoned.
Scotland Yard is said to be trying to identify a blonde woman and a dark-haired man, aged between 35 and 40.
Russian émigrés in London are being shown grainy footage of the pair in the hope of identifying them.
Colonel Skripal and Yulia are still fighting for their lives in hospital.
n US ambassador Nikki Haley told an emergency UN Security Council meeting last night that Russia must ‘account for its actions’.
‘If we don’t take immediate, concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons use,’ she said.