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Skripal attack appears ‘state-sponsored’, claims leading MP

Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said he expected Theresa May to blame Russia for the attack.

The nerve agent attack on a Russian spy and his daughter looks like a state-sponsored murder attempt, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has said.

Tom Tugendhat said he would be surprised if Prime Minister Theresa May did not blame the Kremlin for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The Prime Minister was receiving the latest information on the attack at a meeting of the National Security Council and Downing Street said “if we get to a position when we are able to attribute this attack then we will do so”.

The Kremlin has denied the involvement of the Russian government in the nerve agent attack on the Skripals.

But senior Tory MP Mr Tugendhat told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Salisbury incident was “looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder”.

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

We consider inappropriate any mention of the Russian government in the context of what happened to Sergei Skripal Dmitri Peskov, press secretary to Vladimir Putin

In response to a request for comment from the Press Association, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said: “We consider inappropriate any mention of the Russian government in the context of what happened to Sergei Skripal.

“We have nothing to do with the story.”

Mrs May gathered defence and intelligence chiefs in Downing Street amid speculation the Government is moving closer to publicly blaming Russia.

Reports at the weekend suggested that the Prime Minister was under pressure from  senior ministers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to take a tougher line on Russia.

But Downing Street said it did not recognise reports of a Cabinet split and said blame would be apportioned only if the evidence was clear.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “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.”

The meeting comes as the former spy and his daughter remain critically ill in hospital eight days after they were found collapsed on a bench in the Wiltshire city.

Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey is in a serious but stable condition in the Salisbury District Hospital, where he is said to be conscious and talking.

On Sunday, hundreds of diners and pub-goers were urged to wash clothes and other items a week after potentially coming into contact with the nerve agent.

The “precautionary advice” was issued after traces of the substance were found in The Mill pub and the nearby Zizzi restaurant, in Salisbury.

Military personnel in College Street Car Park in Salisbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Tory leader of Salisbury City Council, Matthew Dean, insisted advice given to members of the public to wash their clothes if they had been to the venues Mr Skripal had visited had been issued quickly enough.

“I think what I am very confident about is that consistently the advice has been that this is a very, very precautionary approach and that they are advising that people wash their clothes because they don’t want people to come into prolonged contact,” he told the BBC.

He said it had been “business as usual” in the city at the weekend.

Downing Street also backed the  handling of the situation by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies and Public Health England.

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.”

Up to 500 people would have been in either the pub or restaurant between the Sunday lunchtime and Monday night.

Dame Sally said: “I want to reassure the general public that the risk to us all from this incident in Salisbury has not changed, and that the risk to us all remains low.”

The advice included machine wash clothing worn on the day, and double-bagging items which would normally be dry cleaned to await further advice.

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