Jeremy Corbyn's front bench angry over his refusal to condemn Moscow
Jeremy Corbyn's front bench angry over his refusal to condemn Moscow
LEADING ARTICLEMarch 18 2018 12:01am The Sunday Times Mr Corbyn fails the test of national leadership
15 March, 2018, 11:55
Corbyn was loudly barracked by Tory MPs for his response to Theresa May after she told the Commons that the United Kingdom would expel 23 Russian diplomats it has identified as "undeclared intelligence officers" and suspend all high-level contact with Moscow.
He was then heckled as he asked whether Mrs May had accepted the Russian government's request for a nerve agent sample to be handed to them. He also called for a "robust dialogue" with Russian Federation and criticised the government for cutting the Foreign Office budget. Sergei Skripal and his daughter, she said, were poisoned by a nerve agent developed by Russian Federation.
In a break with convention, the Press Association took the unusual step of naming Milne as Corbyn's spokesperson, highlighting the significance of the remarks.
The prime minister told the Commons that the attack was an "unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK" and said the cabinet's national security council had agreed "immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK".
"Clearly we accept those alternatives are the ones most overwhelmingly likely".
As she said, Vladimir Putin's government has shown "complete disdain" for the gravity of these events by responding, in the defiant words of the Tory leader, with "sarcasm, contempt and defiance" that must not go unchecked if the monitoring of chemical weapons is not to be undermined by an increasingly reckless Russian regime that has shattered the hope that existed after the break-up of the former Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall.
"That is very clear and I think it is quite wrong and outrageous that the leader of the opposition's spokesman made the comments in the relation to this that he has".
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".
He echoed comments made by Corbyn that the agent could have fallen into a third party's hands, saying "The break up of the Soviet state led to all sorts of material ending up in random hands".
He also drew parallels with the Iraqi WMD debacle.
The Labour spokesman said the Government may have more information.
"However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly".
Speaking in response to May, Corbyn had stressed the need to gather evidence and abide by worldwide law, underlining the role of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague.
"In these kinds of crises, there are often initial reactions which aren't necessarily later backed up by reality of facts", Mr Milne said.
"In the meantime I think it is essential we follow the evidence and what the evidence produces", he added.
Later, his spokesman, Seumas Milne, said there was a "problematic" history over the use of intelligence by politicians and left open the possibility of Russian Federation being framed. "He must now sack him".
Today, it was left to Yvette Cooper - beaten to the Labour leadership by Corbyn in 2015 and now chairwoman of Parliament's Home Affairs Committee - to speak for moderate Labour MPs. "It is truly shameful".
As journalists tweeted the spokesperson's remarks, they were brought to the attention of the PM who was still speaking in the Commons chamber.
May was still taking MPs' questions when she was asked about that statement.
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