Westminster today – as it happened: Theresa May says Russia 'highly likely' behind poison attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter


Theresa May has said it is “highly likely that Russia was responsible” for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The Prime Minister has been been updating MPs on the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, following warnings from a senior Tory MP that the incident amounted to “state-sponsored attempted murder”.

This live blog has now ended.

Live Updates

13 hours ago

May blames Russia for Salisbury nerve agent attack

Russia is “highly likely” to have been behind the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Theresa May told has MPs.

The Prime Minister said “military-grade” substance produced by Russia was used in the poisoning, leaving two possible explanations – Moscow was responsible or it has lost control of its stockpile of the chemical weapon.

Russia’s ambassador Alexander Yakovenko has been summoned to the Foreign Office to explain what happened.

“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom,” Ms May told Parliament.

The Kremlin immediately dismissed the accusation, describing the Prime Minister’s statement as a “circus show”.

In a dramatic statement following a meeting of the UK’s National Security Council, during which she received the latest intelligence analysis, Ms May told MPs that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with an illegal substance that is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

She added: “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

“There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March.

“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

The Government has demanded an response from Moscow by the end of Tuesday. If no “credible” explanation is received, the UK will conclude there had been an “unlawful use of force” by Russia and outline its response.

Following Mrs May’s statement, news agency Tass quoted Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying: “It is a circus show in the British Parliament.

“The conclusion is obvious: it’s another political information campaign, based on a provocation.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into the nerve agent attack has expanded to village of Winterslow, about six miles from Salisbury.

Police and Army teams were at a site where a white van was loaded onto a truck ready to be taken away.

1 day ago

Welcome to The Independent’s politics liveblog, where we will be bringing you the latest updates throughout the day.

1 day ago

Theresa May has come under pressure to plan strong retaliation against Russia over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, ahead of security talks with the Cabinet and after a fresh warning to people in Salisbury.
Story here:

23 hours ago

The attack on Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is “looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder”, the chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs committee has said.

Tom Tugendhat said he would be surprised if Theresa May, who is chairing high-level talks on the Salisbury nerve agent attack, did not blame the Kremlin.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a bit too early to be absolutely certain of that but we are expecting to see the Prime Minister make an announcement soon.

“And, frankly, I would be surprised if she did not point the finger at the Kremlin.”

Mr Tugendhat warned that football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup may be at risk of harm if tensions escalate between London and Moscow.

He said: “We do need to be very, very careful for British fans who are travelling there that they are not in any way caught up in the politics of this.

“And, I’m afraid the danger of Russia responding to British fans for actions taken by their government is all too real.”

23 hours ago

Another story driving the day today is alleged bullying at the top of the Labour Party, ​after a shadow cabinet minister accused members of Jeremy Corbyn’s staff of “aggressive, intimidating and wholly unprofessional” behaviour.
Debbie Abrahams, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said her experience highlighted “a bullying culture of the worst kind”, adding that she would be making a formal complaint to party officials and parliamentary authorities.
Story here: 

23 hours ago

Theresa May is in danger of damaging the UK’s reputation because her pledge to create a “global Britain” after Brexit is merely a slogan, MPs warned today.
Ministers are unable to explain what is meant by the Prime Minister’s phrase for maintaining the UK’s international prowess outside the EU, the highly critical report said.
​Story here:

23 hours ago

Labour’s general secretary should not be elected by the membership as it could run the risk of establishing an alternative power base in the party, according to a prominent ally of Jeremy Corbyn. 
Chris Williamson waded into the row over who should succeed Iain McNicol as general secretary, which has exposed fault lines on the left of the party.
Story here:

22 hours ago

David Davis has not visited Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland since September 2016, and Boris Johnson has not visited the border since he became Foreign Secretary in July 2016, MPs have discovered.

Labour’s Conor McGinn and Wes Streeting uncovered the information through a series of written parliamentary questions, which will raise questions on the Government’s approach to the Irish border issue after Brexit.

It comes after Boris Johnson got into hot water over a leaked to Theresa May, where he claimed “it is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border'” on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Mr McGinn, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said: “It is beyond belief that David Davis hasn’t even bothered to visit Northern Ireland since September 2016 given how vital the issue of the border is to the whole Brexit process.

“The serious point here is that the Government keeps insisting there’ll be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, despite their reckless decision to drag the UK out of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

“But how can we take them at their word when the minister responsible for delivering Brexit has apparently visited Northern Ireland just once since he took on the job over 18 months ago, and has apparently never even visited the border?”

22 hours ago

Several MPs have come out to defend Debbie Abrahams, who has accused Jeremy Corbyn’s office of bullying after it announced she had “stood down” from her role as shadow work and pensions secretary over a “workplace issue”.

22 hours ago

Here’s the order paper for later today in the Commons, although the real drama will come if the Speaker decided to grant urgent questions on bullying allegations in Parliament, or the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. 

22 hours ago

The public will be urged by the Government to suggest tax changes to curb plastic pollution, amid growing criticism that ministers are dragging their heels.
A “call for evidence” on how tax incentives could cut the amount of single-use plastics – such as cutlery, foam trays and coffee cups – that end up littering the land and poisoning the seas will be launched.
Philip Hammond is expected to announce the call in the Spring Statement tomorrow.
Story here:

22 hours ago

Labour politicians could be banned from appearing on the Russian-backed TV station RT in light of the nerve agent attack on the former MI6 spy Sergei Skripal.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that “discussion” would happen in the party because of what he said was a “change in coverage” on the channel since the poisoning.
​More here:

22 hours ago

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has denied suggesting that Brexit supporters are racist after he delivered a speech to his party’s spring conference attacking white nostalgia.

Sir Vince faced criticism for saying those who backed Brexit were “driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink”.

Conservative MPs said the remarks were “unfair” and demanded he apologise.

Sir Vince told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he “didn’t suggest that at all” but insisted that “nostalgia for that world” was a factor in how people had voted.

“One of the factors was indeed nostalgia,” he said. “Why else has so much fuss been made about the change in the colour of the passport?”

He said one of the most effective pieces of “propaganda” during the referendum had been an advertisement unveiled by then Ukip leader Nigel Farage showing a queue of non-white people with “breaking point” written in large letters.

21 hours ago

Interesting polling here from Survation, showing Labour has risen to 44% while the Tories have fallen to 37%.

21 hours ago

Philip Hammond has refused a plea by the widow of murdered Alexander Litvinenko for the Tories to pay back more than £820,000 donated by Russian oligarchs, insisting the cash is legitimate.
​Story here:

21 hours ago

Downing Street has said it does not recognise the reports that the Cabinet was split over the response to Russian spy attack.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “You have seen words from the PM, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary and they are very clear that this is an ongoing investigation, that it is important that we allow the police to get on with their work, that we gather all the evidence and if we get to a position when we are able to attribute this attack then we will do so and the Government will deliver an appropriate response.”

21 hours ago

A no-deal Brexit would cost companies in the UK and the EU £58bn a year, with Britain’s financial services sector taking the biggest hit, according to new research.

20 hours ago

A “millennial” railcard is going on sale nationwide, entitling travellers aged between 26 and 30 to one-third off train tickets — but only if they are among the first 10,000 to apply.
The Independent estimates five million British people are eligible for the 26-30 Railcard, which means there is only one for every 500 people in the 26-30 cohort. ​ 
Read our exclusive story here:

20 hours ago

Downing Street also backed the handling of the Salisbury incident by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies and Public Health England, after criticism over delays in warning customers to wash their possessions to avoid traces of nerve agent.

The PM’s spokesman said: “She explained that they only received the latest piece of scientific analysis on Saturday and they put in place an information programme making sure they had a website ready so that the public were able to access all the information they needed early on Sunday morning.”

Here’s our story:

20 hours ago

Controversial plans to force people to prove their age before watching pornography online have been delayed by the Government.
Ministers had long been hoping to introduce age checks to ensure that only over-18s can watch adult content. Those plans were due to go into force this April, and would see people who didn’t properly check who was viewing their sites charged up to £250,000.
Full story here:

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