Jeremy Corbyn has defended his stance on the Salisbury poison attack after coming under fire after his team raised doubts over whether Russia was to blame.
The Labour leader stressed he “totally condemns” the attack and said “the evidence points towards Russia” being responsible.
But he also said the possibility the nerve agent attack was carried out by Russian-linked gangsters could not be excluded.
And he warned Theresa May not to “rush way ahead of the evidence” – highlighting the way international crises such as the Iraq War had seen “clear thinking” overwhelmed by “emotion and hasty judgments”.
Mr Corbyn faced criticism after failing to offer his support in Parliament on Wednesday to Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith publicly backed the mass expulsion on Thursday morning, saying it would have been “easier for us” if the Labour leader made it clear he supported the move too.
Speaking during a visit to Carlisle on Thursday, Mr Corbyn said: “I was extremely definite yesterday that I totally condemn this attack. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.
“The international Chemical Weapons Convention must be invoked and the source of this weapon, which appears to be Russia – either from the state or from a rogue element of the state – must be brought to justice as a result of it.”
He added: “The evidence points towards Russia on this, therefore responsibility must be borne by those that made the weapon, those that brought the weapon into the country and those that used the weapon.”
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.
Writing in the Guardian he said Labour was “no supporter of the Putin regime” and the authorities in Moscow must be held to account “on the basis of the evidence”.
But he warned against a “new Cold War” of “escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent”.
Confirming Labour’s support for Mrs May’s actions, Mr Corbyn said: “We agree with the Government’s action in relation to Russian diplomats.”
But he added: “Measures to tackle the oligarchs and their loot would have a far greater impact on Russia’s elite than limited tit-for-tat expulsions.
“We are willing to back further sanctions as and when the investigation into the Salisbury attack produces results.”
Mr Corbyn said that Mrs May was right on Monday to identify two possibilities for the source of the nerve agent – either Russia authorised the attack or had lost control of the Novichok substance.
“If the latter, a connection to Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded,” he said.
Mr Corbyn’s official spokesman appeared on Wednesday to question the Government’s use of intelligence material, telling reporters there was “a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly”.
The Labour leader – who strongly opposed the Iraq War – also referred to the “dodgy dossier” produced in the build-up to the 2003 invasion.
Mr Corbyn said: “There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime.
“But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times.
“Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion.”
Ms Griffith told The Mirror that Labour was “fully supporting” the expulsion of 23 diplomats.
Asked if Mr Corbyn had undermined UK security assessments that it was “highly likely” Russia was behind their poisoning, Ms Griffith said: “Looking back, perhaps it would have been easier for us if he had made it clear at the beginning of what he said, just how much we support the expulsion of the diplomats.”
Ms Griffith’s position was supported by several Labour MPs.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said she was “spot on”, while Kingston Upon Hull North MP Diana Johnson said she “fully” supported the shadow defence secretary.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman’s comments on Wednesday prompted Labour backbencher John Woodcock to table an Early Day Motion “unequivocally” accepting the “Russian state’s culpability” for the attack, and supporting “fully” the statement made by Mrs May in the Commons.
Great to hear Shadow Defence Secretary @NiaGriffithMP set out on @BBCr4today in clear terms that @UKLabour accepts the responsibility of Russia for the poison attacks and that the evidence is clear. She speaks for our voters, members and MPs - and makes it clear Mr Milne does not— ChukaUmunna (@ChukaUmunna) March 15, 2018
The motion was swiftly signed by a number of prominent critics of Mr Corbyn, some of whom went public with their criticism of the leader’s senior aide Seumas Milne.
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.”