Labour divided after Corbyn refuses to condemn Kremlin without more evidence

Oscar Cross
March 16, 2018

Not to expel 23 Russian diplomats, and take other steps to protect Britain's national security, would have been an act of weakness on the Prime Minister's part after her 36-hour ultimatum to Moscow to provide a plausible explanation for the use of this chemical weapon, which it ignored.

However, the Labour leader drew ire for failing to explicitly back the Prime Minister's assertion of Russian responsibility for the attack.

Yvette Cooper was among Labour MPs who clearly stated their support for May's sanctions against Russian Federation, saying that Moscow's actions must be met with "unequivocal condemnation".

Asked if he could rule out the possibility of Russian Federation being framed, the spokesman said the evidence pointed "overwhelmingly" to the two options set out by the PM.

But pressed on whether another former Soviet state, such as Ukraine, could be the origin of the nerve agent, he replied: "The second option Theresa May set out on Monday and again today - that the Russian Government had lost control of weapons grade nerve agents which may have been produced during the Soviet period - contains within it a series of different possibilities of who then might have been directly responsible for that".

Tory MPs responded by shouting to the Labour frontbench: "That's how you do it".

A former British ambassador has criticised Jeremy Corbyn for undermining the Government's tough line on Russian Federation yesterday.

The PM, in her response, thanked Ms Cooper for the tone of her comments and acknowledged they were "representative of many" on the Labour benches. However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly.

"In the meantime I think it is essential we follow the evidence and what the evidence produces", he added.

But the spokesman said such moves risk starting a "tit for tat" response and that measures to "hit them in the pocket" would be more effective.

Meanwhile, senior Labour politicians, including the shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith, have publicly questioned the comparison drawn by Corbyn's spokesman between the intelligence in the Salisbury case and the "dodgy dossier" that helped make the case for the Iraq war.

Labour MP Anna Turley tweeted: "I'm afraid Seumas doesn't speak for my Labour or British values", while Chuka Umunna said: "Mr Milne's comments do not represent the views of the majority of our voters, members or MPs".

Another Labour MP told Sky News there was "sheer fury" at Mr Corbyn's response.

Mr Corbyn was briefed on Privy Council terms ahead of Wednesday's statement about the intelligence behind Mrs May's assessment that Moscow was culpable for the attack.

Corbyn questioned the Prime Minister's hawkish line against Vladimir Putin, and suggested that Tony Blair's "dodgy dossier" on Iraq makes it hard to trust the evidence of Britain's intelligence agencies in this case.

Asked why the Labour leader had not given his unequivocal support of the government in the Commons, she said: "He's made it clear in subsequent statements".

An image of the Early Day Motion revealed Mr Woodcock had already attracted the support of 15 other MPs.

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