Evidence points towards Russia on Salisbury attack, says Corbyn
The Labour leader defended his stance, insisting that it is the Opposition’s job to question the Government.
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.
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.
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.
“It would have been easier and perhaps we would not have had the conversations we are seeing.”
The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence, which we condemn in the strongest terms. Nerve agents are...Posted by Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday, March 14, 2018
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.
The Labour leader said that in the Commons he had asked “questions about the identity of the weapon, questions about the reference to the weapons convention and also the support of other allies”, adding: “That’s what Oppositions are there for.”
Ms Griffith’s comments were quickly 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.
The Sun, meanwhile, reported that shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told a London seminar: “We utterly condemn this despicable act and support all the measures taken by the Government today.”
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”.
Asked if he could rule out the possibility of Russia being framed, the spokesman said the evidence pointed “overwhelmingly” to the two options set out by the PM.
“In the meantime I think it is essential we follow the evidence and what the evidence produces,” he added.
His comments 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— Chuka Umunna (@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.”