A nerve agent – like Polonium in the Litvinenko case – is the sort of murder weapon used to send a signal. It is the sort of murder you want people to know you are guilty of because it burnishes your “strongman” image. And there are elections due. They will be rigged of course, not because they have to be for Putin to win, but because neglecting to rig the elections would show weakness.
So the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday struck the right tone.
This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, but an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.
The response from Jeremy Corbyn, though largely unremarkable, has attracted condemnation for appearing to believe that “dialogue” will convince Putin of the merits of the rule of law, and for going on the attack on Russian donations to the Conservative Party. (Whether the donations are from supporters of Putin or opponents is left unsaid.) Corbyn:
We are all familiar with the way in which huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia and sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics—“meddling in elections”, as the Prime Minister put it. There have been more than £800,000 of donations to the Conservative party from Russian oligarchs and their associates. If that is the evidence before the Government, they could be taking action to introduce new financial sanctions powers even before the investigation into Salisbury is complete. But instead they are currently resisting Labour’s amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill that could introduce the so-called Magnitsky powers…
It appears from subsequent contributions that there is broad agreement on the Magnitsky powers but not on the actual text of Labour’s amendments for technical reasons. If that is the case this is a thoroughly shameful response from Corbyn. And he is slapped down by a number on his own side.
I say to the Prime Minister that there should be unity across the House on what I feel is the proportionate and sensible approach that she has taken to analysing what has been happening and to coming back to report to the House. I also say that there are certain circumstances, as she knows, where we take party political differences of opinion, but when our country is potentially under attack, that is just not appropriate.
Phil Wilson (Labour) takes issue with Corbyn’s position on appearing on Russia Today.
In the light of her comments, which I commend, does the Prime Minister agree that there is no place for hon. Members on either side of the House appearing on Russia Today? It is a propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian state with which no democratic politician should engage, and they should think twice before doing so. We should not be engaging with and giving credibility to such a media outlet.
And is John Woodcock (Labour) putting the boot in here?
The level of resilience voiced by the Prime Minister today has been many years in coming, but it is hugely welcome—indeed, it would put our national security at significant risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat that Russia poses to this nation.
Corbyn isn’t completely alone, however.
White House repeatedly declines to echo Britain that Russia was behind or complicit in nerve agent attack on British soil.
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) March 12, 2018
I can see Prime Minister Corbyn’s robust dialogue now
Jeremy: Now, Vladimir, we really can’t have you murdering people on the streets of Britain with chemical weapons.
Vladimir: It’s all lies, we never did it, we promise we won’t do it again, and anyway you provoked us.
Jeremy: Oh I am so sorry we provoked you. I agree that all conflict in the world is the fault of the West, but what can we do to put things right?
Vladimir: You need to stop your people telling lies about the Russian state that we go round murdering people.
Jeremy: Oh, how do I do that?
Vladimir: Let me introduce my security people. They’ll tell you how we do it.
Jeremy: Why thank you, that is so helpful.
Vladimir: And you aren’t going to let the pesky bourgeois rule of law get in the way of your socialist revolution are you?
Jeremy: That’s a very good point. Thank you Vladimir, this has been very useful. I knew dialogue would do the trick.
* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.