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Salisbury probe: Labour MP calls for ‘fundamental’ debate on party’s worldview

Jeremy Corbyn has cautioned against a drift towards a new Cold War with Russia.

A prominent Labour backbencher has called for a “fundamental debate” within the party about its worldview, amid continuing controversy over Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Salisbury poisoning.

Mr Corbyn used an article in The Guardian to warn against a rush to judgment over the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, urging the Government to take a “calm, measured” approach and avoid a drift towards a “new Cold War” with Russia.

The Labour leader made clear he condemned the “horrific” March 4 poisoning and backed Theresa May’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, but suggested that Moscow’s culpability had not been proved, insisting that the involvement of Russian mafia gangs could not be excluded.

Mr Corbyn, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, added: “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.”

Mr Corbyn came under fire on Wednesday after failing to offer explicit support for the Prime Minister’s approach in the House of Commons.

Later statements from shadow cabinet members Emily Thornberry, Sir Keir Starmer and Nia Griffith pointed the finger of blame more firmly at the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Backbench MP Stephen Kinnock – a long-time Corbyn critic – said that the leader’s Guardian article “hasn’t helped to clarify the situation”.

“This has to be a time where we stand together with the Government, shoulder to shoulder, and with our Nato allies, sending a very clear message to Russia,” Mr Kinnock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He rejected Mr Corbyn’s comparison with the run-up to the Iraq War, saying “that sort of drift to conflict is not on the agenda at all”.

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MP portraits

“I think we have got a fundamental need for a debate in our party about about our worldview,” said Mr Kinnock.

“There are those of us who clearly feel that Nato and the EU and standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies… are fundamentally a force for good and those alliances are the fundamental piece of architecture that we have to be a part of, and there are others in our party who take another view.

“I think Jeremy has never made any secret of his views on the role of Nato in the world and on the EU, to a large extent, as well.”

In his Guardian article, Mr Corbyn warned against a “McCarthyite intolerance of dissent” over relations with Russia.

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.”

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.

Despite Mrs May’s statement on Wednesday that “there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable”, Mr Corbyn insisted that the PM had still “ruled out neither option”.

His comments appeared to contradict shadow defence secretary Ms Griffith’s assertion on Thursday that Labour “very much accepts” Mrs May’s assessment that Russia is “responsible for this attack”.

Shadow foreign secretary Ms Thornberry has insisted Russia has a “prima facie case” to answer, to which it had offered no defence.

And Sir Keir Starmer gave his unqualified support to Mrs May’s approach, telling BBC1’s Question Time: “I think it is very important that we support the action the Prime Minister laid out on Wednesday as a response to this unprovoked attack.

“This is not the first time, it needs to be called out – no ifs and no buts – and we need strong action as set out by the Prime Minister on Wednesday.”

Labour backbencher Lloyd Russell-Moyle backed Mr Corbyn’s stance, telling the Today programme: “It’s very clear in Jeremy’s article that this substance has come from Russia and Russia needs to take a role in this.

“The people who’ve been identified to send back are intelligence agents and spies, so it’s quite right to send them back, and Jeremy was clear about that in his article.”

The Brighton Kemptown MP said the Russian state was “clearly involved” in the incident, but added: “At what level? We have to remember the Russian mafia is very inter-linked with the state. We need to be forensic in identifying who ordered this, where it came from, was it organised via the embassy, was it organised via other cells or mafia-linked groups?

“We need to identify that and then we need to punish them.”

Mr Russell-Moyle apologised for using his Twitter feed to accuse Labour critics of Mr Corbyn’s approach as “right-wing sods who want to beat the drum of war”, saying the message was sent “in a fit of rage” directed at an individual councillor.

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