[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 21 March 2018, Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, HC 538. The First Report of the Defence Committee of Session 2016-17, Russia: Implications for UK defence and security, HC107, and the Government Response, HC668, and oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February, on Departmental priorities, HC814. The First Report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment, HC 756.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered national security and Russia.
Three weeks ago, the Russian Federation was responsible for an attempted murder here in our country. This was not only a crime against Sergei and Yulia Skripal: it was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk; it was an assault on our fundamental values and the rules-based international system that upholds them; and it was part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour, but which, with the first offensive use of a nerve agent on European soil since the foundation of NATO, also represents a new and dangerous phase in Russia’s hostile activity within our continent and beyond.
So this debate is taking place because there is no greater responsibility for this House, for this Government and for me as Prime Minister than recognising threats to our national security and acting to meet them. So let me set out for the House: what we now know about the recklessness of this act and its exposure of innocent people to potential harm; the evidence that Russia was indeed responsible; the wider pattern of Russia’s illegal and destabilising actions within our continent and beyond; the extensive actions this Government have already been taking; and our determination to work with our international partners to confront the evolving nature of this threat, to defend the rules-based international system and to keep our people safe.
Let me start by updating the House on the situation in Salisbury. Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain critically ill in hospital. Sadly, late last week doctors indicated that their condition is unlikely to change in the near future and that they may never recover fully. This shows the utterly barbaric nature of this act and the dangers that hundreds of innocent citizens in Salisbury could have faced. An investigation continues into all the locations at which the Skripals had been present on Sunday 4 March. As a result, we now have a fuller picture of the recklessness of this act against our country. Although Public Health England has made it clear that the risk to public health is low, and that remains the case, we assess that more than 130 people in Salisbury could have been potentially exposed to the nerve agent. More than 50 people were assessed in hospital, with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey taken seriously ill. Everyone in the House will welcome the news that he has been discharged and, as we said earlier, we continue to hold him and his family in our thoughts as he makes his recovery.
We are quite clear that Russia was responsible for this act. As I set out for the House in my statements earlier this month, our world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down positively identified the chemical used for this act as a novichok, a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by the Soviet Union. We know that Russia has a record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and that it views some former intelligence officers as legitimate targets for those assassinations. We have information that indicates that within the past decade Russia has investigated ways to deliver nerve agents, probably for assassination, and has, as part of this programme, produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks. That is clearly in contravention of the chemical weapons convention, so it is right that we have been working closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, from which a team arrived in the UK last week and collected samples. This is a normal part of our discharging our obligations under the convention, although we are clear as to what the evidence is.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the upholding of non-proliferation regimes with our partners is central to our international security, while Russia has recklessly undermined and violated them. As I have set out, no other country has a combination of the capability, intent and motive to carry out such an act. There is no other plausible explanation—and that is not just the view of the UK Government; it was the unanimous view of every single leader at least week’s European Council and it is the view of our allies in NATO and around the world.
There are some who question whether there could be alternative explanations, so let me be absolutely clear: we have been led by evidence, not by speculation. When faced with the evidence, we gave the Russian Government the opportunity to provide an explanation, but they did not do so. They provided no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme, in contravention of international law; no explanation that could suggest that they had lost control of their nerve agent; and no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom. Instead, they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
Incredibly, the Russian Government have deployed at least 21 different arguments about it. They have suggested that they never produced novichoks, or that they produced them but then destroyed them. They have tried to claim that their agents are not covered by the chemical weapons convention. They have pointed the finger at other countries, including Slovakia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, and they even tried to claim that the United Kingdom was responsible for a chemical attack on our own citizens. For a nation state like Russia to resort again to peddling such preposterous and contradictory theories is unworthy of its people and their great history.
Cabinet Ministers in this House defended Russia, despite the growing evidence of the enormity of its crimes, from 1929 to 1931. At least that was understandable on the basis of a shared ideology. Now that Russia has abandoned that ideology, to what can the Prime Minister attribute the reluctance of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to point the finger where it properly lies?
I can find no reason to attribute to the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for the stance that he has previously taken on this issue. I hope that, like some of his right hon. and hon. Friends, he will take a different position in this debate.
As I was saying, to peddle such preposterous theories is unworthy of the Russian people. It is merely an effort to distract from the truth of Russia’s violation of international law. This unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of the UN charter. This act against our country is the latest in a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour, attacking the international rules-based system across our continent and beyond.
Russia’s illegal actions in Crimea were the first time since the second world war that one sovereign nation has forcibly annexed territory from another in Europe. Since then, Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbass, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. She will know that the 2015 strategic defence and security review states that state-on-state threats have dramatically reduced, but given what she has just said and what we all know, can she tell us whether the modernising defence programme will seek to update the part that underpins the SDSR?
We have been looking at the overall question of the threats to national security; we do that within the national security capability review. Of course, the modernising defence programme has come out of that, and it will look at the threats that we face and at the capabilities that we need in relation to that, but that will be set in that wider context of the overall national security capabilities that we need to defend ourselves in the future.
The Prime Minister will know that, since General Gerasimov updated the playbook of Russian active measures, intervention in democracy abroad has been one of the mainstays of Russian activity around the world. Our national security strategy does not include an explicit objective to defend the integrity of our democracy, and our election law defences are hopelessly out of date. Will she now update that national security strategy and, crucially, update the election law, so that our regulators have the power to keep our democracy safe?
We take very seriously the need to ensure that we keep our democracy safe and that we have free and fair elections at all times in this country. The right hon. Gentleman is right—as I was about to go on to say—that Russia has meddled in elections elsewhere. We do look at, and are updating, the arrangements in our electoral law in a number of ways.
It is absolutely right, as I have said, that we have updated the national security issues. We responded to the terrorist attacks that we saw here in the United Kingdom last year by setting up the national security capability review, but that review and, of course, the modernising defence programme will look at the overall threats that we face.
After Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, Alexander Litvinenko and now Salisbury, I believe that we are entering, if not a period of cold war, at least a period of cool war in our relations with Russia, which is likely to last for some time. In that context, does the Prime Minister agree that the robust decision of 18 of our allies to expel Russian diplomats is likely to give Russia pause for thought and hurt it far more than our unilateral expulsions in 1971?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said earlier, those expulsions have taken place not just as a sign of support for the United Kingdom, but because it is important for the national security of those countries. The action will have an impact. The expulsion of 23 undeclared intelligence officers, which we have already undertaken here in the United Kingdom, will have a major impact on Russia’s intelligence network here in the UK, which I will make reference to later in my speech.
I said a little earlier that Russia has meddled in elections. It has hacked the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others. It is seeking to weaponise information, deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.
During his recent State of the Union address, President Putin showed video graphics of missile launches, flight trajectories and explosions, including the modelling of attacks on the United States, with a series of warheads impacting on Florida. Of course, Russia used radiological substances in its despicable assault here in London on Mr Litvinenko. Russia is also failing to honour its responsibilities in the international community as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly this weekend, the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) issued a statement to members. We had 100% support from all the NATO alliance parliamentarians for what happened and for our stance in relation to the blaming of Russia. One matter was raised: some of the members were concerned that Britain has very good chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capability to investigate, but that many of them would not if such a thing were to happen on their soil. Does the Prime Minister agree that, if another NATO ally were attacked in this way, we should provide them with the capability that we have and that we have demonstrated so well?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. It is clear from the European Council that, within the EU, we will be looking at the whole question of enhancing our ability to deal with potential CBRN attacks. Regarding the wider group of countries to which she refers, I understand that the NATO summit this summer will be looking at the question of sharing capabilities. We recognise that certain countries hold certain capabilities and expertise, and it is important that they can be put to the use of others when necessary.
Although the improvements at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Porton Down are very welcome, does she agreement that the abolition of the CBRN Joint Regiment in 2011 appears, in the light of current events, to have been premature? As part of the defence review, will she consider rebuilding that facility?
The important issue is that we retain the capabilities. Those capabilities may be retained in a slightly different format and in a slightly different way, but we continue to have excellent CBRN capabilities across our whole national security structure.
I said that Russia was failing to honour its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In particular, it has covered up for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria, especially in its attempts to impede the joint investigative mechanism of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This has allowed the Syrian regime to continue to perpetrate atrocities against the Syrian people. For the past month, in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2401, Russian air power and military co-ordination have enabled the regime offensive in Eastern Ghouta, causing more appalling suffering and impeding the heroic efforts of the humanitarian relief agencies. Over the course of many years of civil war, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died and many times that number have been displaced, yet Russia has repeatedly failed to use its influence over the Syrian regime to bring an end to this terrible suffering.
From the outset, the UK has been at the forefront of the European and transatlantic response to these actions. In response to the annexation of Crimea, we led the work with our EU and G7 partners in constructing the first sanctions regime against Russia. We have stepped up our military and economic support to Ukraine, including directly training almost 7,000 Ukrainian armed forces personnel. We are the second largest contributor of monitors to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe special monitoring mission. We are driving reform of NATO to better deter and counter hostile Russian activity, and our commitment to collective defence and security through NATO remains as strong as ever. Indeed, our armed forces have a leading role in NATO’s enhanced forward presence, with British troops leading a multinational battlegroup in Estonia.
In the western Balkans, we stepped up our support to our newest ally, Montenegro, when it suffered an attempt by Russia to stage a coup. Our western Balkans summit in July will enhance our security co-operation with all our western Balkans partners, including on serious and organised crime, anti-corruption and cyber-security.
Is the Prime Minister concerned as I and others in the House are that the Russians appear to be re-arming various Serb groups in the Balkans? Why does she think the Russians are re-arming Serbian groups in the Balkans as well as doing other things, such as handing out Russian passports?
I know that my hon. Friend has particular knowledge and expertise on these matters. This is part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour, which seeks to foment and sow discord in a number of countries around Europe. I believe that the western Balkans summit will be an important opportunity for this country, as part of the Berlin process, to enhance our security co-operation with our western Balkans partners.
I thank the Prime Minister for her speech to the House. Does she agree that, although a functioning relationship is needed with the Russians, the basis of that relationship has to be the foundation of respect, which was and is seriously lacking in the murderous attack by Russia in our country and, indeed, across the whole of Europe?
As I said earlier regarding our relations with Russia, we have no problem with the Russian people, who have a great history. It is the actions of the current Russian regime that are of concern to us. Many of us had hoped that Russia would take a different type of approach after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Sadly, that has not proved to be the case.
I thank the Prime Minister for being so generous in taking interventions. What assessment have the Government made of other approaches? The British Council, for example, did excellent work in Moscow. What is her view now of that work, which that will not continue because of the expulsion?
The hon. Lady is right that the British Council did extremely good work. As she will know, the Russians have taken action against the British Council. In a few minutes, I will mention one or two other things that might be of interest to her.
We are building up our defences against Russia’s cyber-threat more broadly, investing almost £2 billion in our national cyber-security strategy, and have opened a new National Cyber Security Centre, which is actively working with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat. We are also working with our European partners to support the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, in Helsinki. We are calling out Russia’s malign behaviour in cyber-space, as we did last month, when, together with the US and other allies, we attributed the NotPetya cyber-attack to the Russian military.
We are investing millions of pounds in countering Russian disinformation efforts, including more investment in public service and independent media operating in the Russian language through projects in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and through reinvigorating the BBC Russia service as an independent source of news for Russian speakers.
The Prime Minister is being very generous in giving way. Given that the misinformation being spread by Russian television stations and stations that Russia has a hand in, would not this be a good time to increase our funding of World Service television output, so that we can give our own correct and democratic messages?
We do, of course, look at the resources that are provided to the BBC World Service; obviously, the BBC World Service television is on a slightly different basis. It is important that we reinvigorate the BBC Russia service, as it can provide an important independent source of news for Russian speakers.
As the House knows, we already have the largest defence budget in Europe and second largest in NATO, meeting the 2% standard and set to increase every year of this Parliament. As I mentioned previously, we have also commissioned the national security capability review, which will report shortly, and the modernising defence programme, to ensure that our defence and security capabilities are optimised to address the threats that we face, including those from Russia.
Following the incident in Salisbury, we have of course taken further measures. We are dismantling the Russian espionage network in our country and will not allow it to be rebuilt. We are urgently developing proposals for new legislative powers to harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity—this will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of such activity at the UK border—and considering whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country.
We are making full use of existing powers to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those travelling to the UK who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the UK and our allies. This includes increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight and freezing Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents.
I am grateful for the position that the Prime Minister is laying out. She has my wholehearted support, particularly on private flights, which is an area that covers many sins. Will she also talk a little bit about the media here? Some media organisations are acting as state assets, even though they claim independence. They are not journalists at all, but agents of propaganda and information warfare.
As I am sure my hon. Friend will know, the question whether there are certain media outlets such as broadcasters operating here in the UK, and the licence under which they operate, is a matter for Ofcom as an independent body.
We are also cracking down on illicit and corrupt finance, bringing all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites, neither of whom have any place in our country.
The Prime Minister clearly knew that I was going to intervene the moment she mentioned finance. May I suggest two things that she could do which I think would make a dramatic difference and that so far the Government have been reluctant to do? The first of those is a full review of the tier 1 investor visa whereby £2 million has merely to be handed over and is not necessarily checked to get residency rights in the UK. The second is making sure that the register of beneficial ownership of trusts, which many Russians use to hide their finances in this country, is public.
As I indicated in the previous debate on the statement, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is looking at the question of the tier 1 investor visa and its operation. The hon. Gentleman refers to some of the specific work that we have been doing. As he will know, we have already taken, and are taking, some steps that are world-leading in relation to some of the registers and their transparency, particularly in relation to property. Of course, we continue to look at any further steps we can take in this area.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I would like to make just a little more progress.
We have given our law enforcement agencies new powers in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, and we will table an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to ensure that the UK cannot be a home for those who trade illicit finance or commit human rights abuses.
Crucially, because this threat from Russia is an attack on the whole international rules-based system and the collective security of the UK and its allies, we must continue to work closely with all our international partners—including through the new security partnership we want to build with the European Union as part of our new relationship after we have left. As I said in my speech in Munich, when we leave the EU, it is right that the UK will pursue an independent foreign policy, but around the world the interests that we will seek to project and defend will continue to be rooted in our shared values. Nowhere is this more true than in standing up to Russia’s hostile actions and refuting its attempts to undermine the international rules-based order.
As President Macron said on Friday, Russia’s actions in Salisbury were an act of
“aggression against the …sovereignty of an ally…which demands a reaction.”
As I set out in my statement earlier, the EU and its member states have already taken some immediate actions, including withdrawing the EU’s ambassador from Moscow. As I announced today, 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers, including 15 EU member states as well as the US, Canada, and Ukraine. I repeat that, as I said earlier, this is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.
If the Kremlin’s goal is to divide and intimidate the western alliance, its efforts have spectacularly backfired. Today’s actions by our allies clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to the Kremlin that Russia cannot continue to flout international law and threaten our security. As I argued at last week’s European Council, we must reappraise how our collective efforts can best tackle the challenge that Russia poses. But we must and will proceed on a rigorous and legally sound basis, which is why the Council mandated Foreign Ministers to consider how best to proceed and to report back ahead of the next Council.
Given the catalogue of outrages that the Prime Minister has outlined, could she confirm to the House that the measures to be considered by Foreign Ministers in due course will include the possibility of sanctions either against the wider Russian economy or against individuals close to the Putin regime?
We have asked Foreign Ministers to look at what steps they think it is important for us to take. We, as the UK, have already been at the forefront of the economic sanctions that have been put in place in relation to Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea, and of course the EU Council will want to be looking at those sanctions for the future.
I agree entirely with the approach that my right hon. Friend has adopted. She highlighted the absolute need for our response to be lawful. Does she agree that that is why the collective response that she has achieved across our allies will be so important—because otherwise the temptation will always be that we cannot resist this kind of unlawful assault without resorting to methods of our own that would be unacceptable—and why the alliance that she has forged on this is of the greatest possible importance for us?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the alliance, both in the strength of the signal that it sends but also in the very clear message that we are not resorting to any sort of, as he says, unlawful methods. We are actually acting in full sight of and in accordance with the law.
As I have made clear before, we have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country’s great history. Indeed, our thoughts are with them today, especially the friends and families of those who died in the awful shopping centre fire in Kemerovo in Siberia. Neither should we wish to be in a permanent state of perpetual confrontation with Russia. Many of us, as I said in answer to an intervention, looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We would much rather have in Russia a constructive partner ready to play by the rules. But while we should continue to keep open this possibility, we must also face the facts. President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our values and interests within Europe and beyond.
The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come. As a European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the European Union and NATO to face down these threats together. We will defend our infrastructure, our institutions and our values against attempts to undermine them, and we will act to protect our national security and to keep our people safe. I commend this motion to the House.
We must start with the events in Salisbury. What happened to Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4 March was an outrageous act committed with callous indifference towards the wider community in Salisbury, including those brave police officers who had to respond to and investigate the incident. Our first thoughts must remain with Mr Skripal and his daughter as they continue to fight for their lives in an NHS hospital, and with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey as he continues his recovery.
Based on the analysis conducted by Government scientists, there can be little doubt that the nerve agent used in this attack was military-grade Novichok of a type manufactured by Russia. Since that analysis was revealed by the Prime Minister two weeks ago, the Russian state has had every opportunity to offer a plausible explanation as to how a nerve agent stock of this type came to be used in this attack. It has offered nothing concrete in response except denials and diversion. Indeed, the only solid assertion that it has offered so far in its defence was that all stocks of nerve agents were destroyed many years ago—an assertion that has been contradicted by intelligence reports. That suggests that just over a decade ago Russia invested in the use of nerve agents and developed new stockpiles of Novichok to that end. There is clear evidence that the Russian state has a case to answer, and it has failed to do so. We can therefore draw no other conclusion than that Russia has a direct or indirect responsibility for this.
We have supported actions taken. We have also condemned the Russian Government for including in its tit-for-tat retaliation a totally unnecessary and counterproductive decision to close the British Council offices in Russia which have done so much to promote better understanding and closer relationships between our two countries. It is a matter of deep regret to all of us that on issue after issue, and not of our making, UK-Russian relations now stand at such a low ebb.
The Leader of the Opposition has condemned Russia’s retaliation, but he has not yet clearly and unequivocally condemned the attempted murders themselves. Will he now take this opportunity, without further caveat, to absolutely condemn the Russian Government’s involvement in these attempted murders?
I have very clearly condemned what happened and those who perpetrated this attack.
On 14 March, the Prime Minister said:
“there are other measures we stand ready to deploy at any time should we face further Russian provocation.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 857.]
Does she consider the expulsion of 23 British diplomats and the closure of the British Council a further provocation?
In the light of the poisoning of the Skripals and the murder of Nikolai Glushkov, what advice and support are the police and security services giving to high-profile Russians living in Britain, or indeed any other Russian national living and working in this country?
What plans does the Prime Minister have to publish and table the Government’s version of Labour’s Magnitsky amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill which was blocked in February? We have been assured that that will deliver all the powers that we were demanding—including by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor in his response to the Budget and the Finance Bill—even before the Salisbury attack, to punish Russian abusers of human rights, but we are still waiting to see it published.
The people of the United Kingdom will want to know: does the right hon. Gentleman hold the Russian Government responsible for this—yes or no?
I have already made that very clear.
I am asking for a clear commitment from the Government that the Magnitsky powers will be introduced and will be supported by Conservative Members. In that spirit, I also urge the Government to look again at Labour’s proposal to target the laundering of money through secret tax havens and undisclosed assets, as practised by many of the London-based Russian oligarchs, on whom so much of Putin’s power depends.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
For the last time.
I am trying to listen very hard to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Can he confirm that he agrees that there is no other plausible explanation than the Russian state being responsible for the chemical attack on British soil?
I made it very clear earlier in my speech what my position was, and I hope it is not the case that the hon. Lady—[Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have both sides of the House shouting at the Leader of the Opposition. He must be heard.
I hope the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) is not trying to divert us away from a discussion about oligarchs’ money in London and the need for a Magnitsky amendment.
Before more Conservative MPs stand up and ask their pre-prepared questions, they should listen again to what my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks. He said that given the failure of the Russian state for the past two weeks to provide any evidence to the contrary, he accepts that the Russian state was responsible for the Salisbury chemical weapons attack—end of story.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention and for the serious and close interest he takes in all these matters.
I was talking about Russian oligarchs and their power. As the Prime Minister will know, it is not just the Labour party pressing for action. Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition party leader who was barred from standing for the Russian presidency and has faced down intimidation of him, his family and his supporters at the hands of the Russian state, has made clear that the most important thing the UK could do to curb the power and punish the actions of Vladimir Putin is to hit his billionaire allies in their pockets. I hope the Prime Minister will listen to that advice.
There are a lot of people out there who are very grateful that my right hon. Friend has called on the Government to follow due diligence and the guidelines set out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Has he noticed that the Government have quietly heeded his advice?
Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I will discuss that organisation further on in my speech.
In welcoming the expressions of co-operation and solidarity from our international allies, including the withdrawal of the EU ambassador to Moscow and the co-ordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats, we must continue to build further, concrete multilateral actions to send a clear message that the Russians’ actions are not acceptable. As I said previously, it is by building alliances that we strengthen our approach and the action we take.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
To that end, we applaud the Government’s decision to ask the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to conduct its own independent analysis of the nerve agent used in the attack, to verify the tests conducted here in Britain, as we proposed two weeks ago. We are certain that those results—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Order. The right hon. Gentleman will give way when he decides to do so.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We hope that that will make it easier for the Government to strengthen the resolve of our allies around the world to strengthen the co-ordinated response. To that end, I wonder if the Prime Minister could tell us later when she expects—[Interruption.] Well, then the Foreign Secretary will be in a position to reply to us, with his normal due diligence and care, about the results of the OPCW tests being undertaken at the moment. If he could give us the answer later on this evening, after my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has spoken, I would be very grateful. Does he agree that this attack serves as a stark reminder of how important it is to properly enforce the chemical weapons convention and to ensure that the OPCW has all the resources it needs, both political and financial, to do its job effectively?
I commend the Leader of the Opposition for what he said earlier today. One of the horrible ironies of the way that the Russians have done their business over recent years is that they have sought the soft underbelly of British society—the strengths of fair play, the rule of law and all the rest—to try to target the way we do our business in this country. I met Marina Litvinenko last week, and she said, “One of the most sensible things you could do if you can’t get a proper trial,” which is what we would all want, “is some kind of judicial inquiry into the events in Salisbury.” Does my right hon. Friend support that?
That is a very helpful suggestion. Again, my hon. Friend has taken a long-term and serious interest in human rights issues in Russia and the large sums of Russian money that have turned up, particularly in London.
My question to the Foreign Secretary is: what are the Government doing through the United Nations to make sure that the OPCW has the resources and support that it needs?
Does my right hon. Friend share the concern of my constituents about the fact that significant sums of Russian money are donated to the Conservative party in exchange for political influence—including, we understand, a lot of money for a game of tennis with one Conservative Member?
I understand that it was an incredibly expensive game of tennis with the Foreign Secretary. All I can say is that I am not going to bid for a game of tennis with him.
It seems a matter of fact that, as well as violating international law on the use of chemical weapons, the Salisbury attack represented an extraterritorial violation of human rights. Have the Government considered initiating or supporting a case in the European Court of Human Rights to examine that, which a number of Members have called for?
Let me turn from the Salisbury attack to the wider security issues raised by these actions. It is striking how far we have come in the past two years, not just in understanding the threat of cyber-warfare but in experiencing its reality. In the last two years, we have seen those dangers proven. We have seen Russia, among others, using social media to disseminate fake news in this country and disrupt the democratic process. We have also seen the attempt to interfere in our elections—thankfully, according to the Foreign Secretary, without any success. In the WannaCry attack on the NHS computer network last May, we saw the ability of overseas attackers—in that case, it was blamed on North Korea—to paralyse critical UK public services and infrastructure, so such organisations need the resources required to be able to defend their systems and services.
These developments fundamentally challenge the traditional definitions and norms of conflict. Whether we can adequately respond to these challenges is likely to be the crucial test of our defence policies in this country. On that note, while I know the Prime Minister will not want to go into details, will she at least reassure us not just that preventive measures and contingency plans are in place across our critical national infrastructure, but that simulation exercises have been conducted across all key sectors to test their state of readiness and identify any required improvements? The NHS and many other services depend on computer systems that can be hacked into, with all the obvious dangers that brings to everyone’s daily lives.
Let me turn from the threat to Britain to the threat posed to allies in NATO, eastern Europe and the security of the world as a result of rising tensions in recent years. Now more than ever, it is vital that we stress to our European counterparts that their support is important in the wake of the Salisbury attack, that we wish to work with them to maximise the power of collective sanctions against violations of international law—whether from Russia or any other state—and that our commitment to such collective action will not be diminished by Brexit. Similarly, now more than ever, it is vital that the UK and all other NATO members make it clear to all our allies in the Baltic states and elsewhere that we want to protect peace and security on the borders, without ramping up tensions unnecessarily, and that such a commitment is not conditional on their levels of defence spending.
At the same time, we would all do well to listen to the words of the outgoing chair of the NATO military committee, General Petr Pavel. Although he is a fierce critic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, he made it clear earlier this month that, during the tensions of recent years, the only incursions of Russian planes into NATO airspace or vice versa had occurred because of human error. That makes it all the more vital—[Interruption.] I am citing the outgoing chair of the NATO military committee. That makes it all the more vital that channels of communication remain open to avoid tensions rising unnecessarily as a result of misunderstandings. More broadly, General Pavel stressed how vital it was to maintain a “constructive dialogue” between NATO and Russia.
Two weeks ago, I said I favoured a “robust dialogue”. I have been a robust critic of the actions of the Russian Government for more than 20 years. I opposed the abuse going on in Chechnya by Russian forces, the manipulation of elections, the oppression of LGBT rights, and the dodgy laundering of money through London by Russian oligarchs.
I was not intending to intervene, but I cannot let that remark go by. I have been sitting here reading my right hon. Friend’s article in the Morning Star after Russia annexed part of Ukraine. The strongest criticism he makes is:
“On Ukraine, I would not condone Russian behaviour or expansion. But it is not unprovoked”,
and then he goes into the usual criticism of the US and NATO, and of UK policy. It is just not true.
I thank my hon. Friend for his usual helpful intervention—thank you very much. [Interruption.]
Order. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard. Questions have been asked of him, and he will now answer them.
Abuses of human rights anywhere in the world are wrong. On a delegation of all-party human rights group members to Moscow at the time of the end of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Russia, a whole group of us made it very clear, across party lines, what we thought about attacks on LGBT people, what was going on in Chechnya, and the denial of the right of civil assembly by people in Russia. I have continued to support such calls.
Where dialogue must take place for the protection of global security and the sake of the world is on the question of nuclear proliferation. Just three days before the attack in Salisbury, President Vladimir Putin gave an update boasting of his ability to strike at any part of the planet. We should not be about to mark the 50th anniversary of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty this June while its two key signatories, Russia and the United States, are behaving as though it no longer applies to them. It was a Labour Government who, in 1968, promoted the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We urgently need the other signatories to that treaty, including the United Kingdom, to take a lead in insisting that Russia, the US and all other nuclear powers return to the negotiating table and to the principles that underpinned that very important treaty in 1968.
I hope the Prime Minister will take a lead on such a global initiative, which must happen—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman can choose from whom he wishes to take interventions; it is his business and no one else’s. However, it is my business to make sure he is heard—and he will be heard.
In case Conservative Members did not hear, let me repeat that I hope the Prime Minister will take a lead on the global initiative to get everyone back around the table, to give teeth and powers to the non-proliferation treaty, and to see what can be developed for the rest of the world. It is equally essential, however unpalatable it is in the current climate, that we maintain a robust dialogue with Russia on three other issues of crucial geopolitical importance.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way so that we can have a robust dialogue on that point?
The first issue is climate change. The Russian Government have clearly taken the view that if the United States no longer needs to abide by its commitments under the Paris agreement, Russia need not do so either.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are of course quite right that the Leader of the Opposition can decide to whom he will or will not give way, but how can he become the Prime Minister of this country if he is too frightened to take a single intervention from Conservative Members?
That is certainly not a matter for me. I intend to make sure that this House and those who are paying attention to the proceedings in this Chamber can hear the important speech by the Leader of the Opposition, and we must now have some decorum to allow him to finish.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The second issue I want to raise is the nuclear deal with Iran, of which Russia is a signatory and, indeed, a strong supporter. At a time when it is more under threat than ever from those now in charge of Donald Trump’s foreign and security policy, we will need a united front to defend that very important deal with Iran, which was promoted by President Obama and others. Whether we like it or not, Russia must be part of that process.
I am not going to give way.
The third issue is of course—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way.
The third issue is, of course, the war in Syria, where Russia stands accused of supporting and committing war crimes in its backing for the Assad regime, in what is now the seventh year of that desperate war. It remains the inescapable truth that there can be no military solution in Syria, but an alternative political solution will never succeed without Russian agreement. Also included must be Iran, Turkey and the United States. All foreign forces will eventually have to be withdrawn to bring about peace in Syria. So, again, the international community does need an ongoing dialogue with the Russian Government if we are ever to achieve a political solution—a permanent peace for the Syrian people, hundreds of thousands of whom have lost their lives, so many of whom have been driven into exile, and so many of whom are living in desperate poverty and danger.
It was surprising that any democratic leader saw fit to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election. I hope the Prime Minister will show the same consistency this week by refusing to congratulate President Sisi of Egypt on his sham re-election to office. President Putin’s re-election has been preceded in the past year not just by the abuses that we have already discussed, and that the Russian state has committed or abetted overseas, but by blatant abuses at home as well. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of individuals punished for violating Russia’s regulation on public gatherings was two and a half times bigger in the first half of 2017 than in the whole of the preceding year.
However, for all the punishment beatings meted out to student activists, for all the horrendous state-approved homophobia against the LGBT community, and for all the intimidation and banning orders against political opponents, one central, inescapable fact remains: President Putin will be the Russian President for the next six years, and we cannot afford to pretend otherwise or to wish that away. On all the issues I have discussed—diffusing tensions on Russia’s borders; avoiding accidental conflict; preserving international agreements on climate change and Iran; reaffirming the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; securing a political solution in Syria; and even demanding the protection of human rights in Russia—we will have to engage with that Government and maintain what General Pavel of NATO called for: a constructive and robust dialogue, wherever that is required.
One area where that dialogue is immediately required with the Russian Government is regarding the protection, safety and security of the thousands of English football fans who will be travelling to the World cup this summer, as well as of the thousands of Arsenal fans travelling to next month’s CSKA Moscow match. What arrangements are in place for policing the leg to be played here, and what advice is there for fans travelling to Russia? I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to answer those points when he speaks later this evening.
There are many in this House, including on the Benches behind me—[Interruption.]
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I could hear something that sounded like a whistle. That will not happen in this Chamber—[Interruption.] Order. It will not happen; I do not care what it was meant to be—it will not happen in this Chamber. We will now have some decorum and allow the right hon. Gentleman to finish his speech.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There are many in this House, including on the Benches behind me, who would prefer that the World cup did not take place at all or was relocated elsewhere. My own view at this late stage is that such a decision would be impossible, and that such a gesture from England alone would be pointless. However, may I urge the Government to do something that could ensure that these battles are not lost in future? Is it not time, as part of the international concern that the incident in Salisbury has caused for the global political community, to urge FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and other global sporting organisations to amend their criteria for awarding major sporting events and demand that bidding countries meet a much higher standard than at present in terms of the protection of human rights and compliance with international law?
I believe that we are essentially in agreement on many aspects of the approach that must be taken to Russia in the wake of the Salisbury attack. As we hold this general debate on Russia, we have strong and deeply held views, rightly expressed in this House, in terms of our collective anger at the Salisbury attack and our strong, united support for a response. However, we must also remember that we once stood as allies with the Russian people, millions of whom died in a mutual struggle for survival against the Nazis during the second world war. If we can come through this era of division and hostility, we can, I am sure, be allies again. If we want to live in a world of peace, security and respect for human rights, we must continue to hold on to that hope.
So let us send a clear message today in support of action to challenge Russia that is robust and hard-hitting, and that commands the widest possible support. But let us also resolve that we will keep working in the years ahead for a better, more peaceful future—for the safety and security of all of us on this planet.
Madam Deputy Speaker, what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, particularly when we have had such a demonstration of moral relativism—such an apologia, in many ways, for a regime that has really done nothing to justify the explanations that have been permitted it.
May I welcome the clarity that you have brought to this debate, when all that we have had from some parties is very much the opposite? We have had obfuscation, deception and dissimulation. We have had all the tricks and all the terms that we are used to when we talk about a regime that has institutionalised lies, deception and dishonesty not, as Churchill put it, as vanguards for the truth, but instead of the truth. These are attempts not to build a better world, but to destroy one that is trying to serve the people of these islands and our allies and friends.
I am privileged to be speaking today about security. We have heard—and no doubt we will hear more—about how security is built on military hardware, and Members will not, quite understandably, hear me resile from that point. However, security is, of course, not built just on military hardware. It is not built just on the training teams that, even now, are helping the Ukrainians to defend themselves against the Russian tanks that are in Donetsk and in the Donbass, and that care about the overflights over Ukraine. It is not just about the British battalion that is, even now, in Estonia, demonstrating to the Russians that the NATO commitment is real. Those British troops are not there just because they are capable, but to demonstrate that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to consider the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is on record publicly as stating his belief that NATO should be closed down? Does my hon. Friend agree that that sends a deep signal of alarm across these Benches?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but he is slightly limited in what he said. He should have said, quite accurately, that it sends a deep signal of alarm across this House, and I look here even at friends in the Scottish National party and at many on the Labour Benches, who will remember, of course, who it was who built NATO: Clement Atlee. Who was it who built the independent nuclear deterrent? It was the Attlee Government, who recognised that the United Kingdom had a role to play as a force for good in the world. That was an era when socialism loved Britain and did not hate it. That was an era when socialism respected the west and did not hate it. That was an era when socialism stood for something and did not stand for nothing.
The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech a moment ago, made reference to the 1930s and 1940s. Does my hon. Friend agree that the one lesson those unhappy decades teach us is that appeasement does not work?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, although he will forgive me if I do not join in with the comparisons between Russia and Nazism. They are not accurate. Nazism was a hateful ideology that sought the death of millions. It deliberately sought to persecute and murder thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions of people, including Jews, gays and Gypsies. We are not dealing with that in today’s Russia. We are not dealing with an ideology; we are dealing with a kleptocracy. We are dealing with a simple thieving regime under the leadership of one man who has enriched himself beyond the dreams of Croesus or avarice. He has made sure that even his cellist, a man none of us has ever heard of, has, according the recent Panama papers, earned more in his short life and professional career than any musician we have ever heard of. He has, apparently, over $2 billion in assets. Who can dream of such wealth? Certainly none of the musicians we could name. Perhaps I should have stuck with those lessons, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We are dealing with a very real threat, which is why I particularly welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is here to lead the debate herself. She has demonstrated, not only through her premiership but through her time as Home Secretary, how seriously she takes these matters and I am grateful for her leadership.
Had I had the opportunity to ask the Leader of the Opposition a question in an intervention I would have asked him whether he supported the continuation of our nuclear deterrent. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is absolutely critical and the lynchpin of western security?
My hon. Friend will not be at all surprised to hear that I am not only very glad that we have maintained our nuclear deterrent but that I voted in favour of renewing it. I was very glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister used the words she did at the Dispatch Box when she was asked if she would use that terrible weapon. The answer has to be yes, not because she wishes to, but because the point of the nuclear deterrent is that, yes, it should never be used, but it will only deter if it might be. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
This is a debate on security and we have focused, more than I would have perhaps chosen, on the military aspect. I would like to turn to the diplomatic aspect and pay tribute again to the Government for their success. Indeed, I pay tribute to Members from all parts of the House who have used the past two weeks to speak to friends and allies across these islands, across the continent and around the world, and to speak up and remind people why it is that we have called for aid at this moment, why it is that we have cited the attack in Salisbury as particularly important, and why now is the time for them to stand up.
I remember very clearly a conversation I had only a few days ago with a Minister in the French Government when the Select Committee was in France. I pointed out to her that she must be under no illusion, as she talks about European defence co-operation, that as far as we see it this is a moment for that defence to be shown real and for that alliance to be proved true, so that we can move forward and build on it. I am delighted to say that there was no divergence in the Committee, which is made up of Members from Labour, my party and the Scottish National party. There was complete unity. I was very pleased with the message we were able to convey: that the British people are united as one. Whatever our divisions on other issues, we are united on this being an attack on the British people and not just an attack on two people in a park in Salisbury.
This matter is not just about diplomacy either. Too often our intelligence services are overlooked. In the security service, the secret intelligence services and the Government communications headquarters, there are people who are working even now in secret and in silence to keep us safe, and to ensure we are prepared and ready—indeed to ensure that we never know about the next attack because it will not happen. That is so hard to measure, but it is the most essential element of our defence. Without it, we are blind. Without it, we are deaf. Without it, we cannot speak. Like the three wise monkeys, we would be left merely as an ornament and not as an actor.
Britain is nothing if not an actor on the world scene. We have been so because we have played our part in the last 70 years in building the international order that has kept us safe. In the post-war era we have been instrumental in building the United Nations, an organisation with many flaws but without which we cannot imagine modern life. We have been instrumental in building NATO, another organisation that asks for many improvements but still guarantees that we can sleep safely in our bed. We have been absolutely fundamental in writing some of the rules that underpin it, including—I know that on this I do not have the universal support of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches—the European convention on human rights, which has reflected British law around the continent.
The tragedy is that throughout that journey—well, most of it—we have been partnered by the Russians. In the 1940s, the Russians were part of building that new world order. They were a part of writing the universal declaration on human rights. The Soviet diplomats at the UN were not our friends—they were already rivals—but they understood that the rules-based international order was something for all of us. In it was the guarantee that we could all have a future and that we could all have a safe idea of where we were going. They challenged us on what that future would be—their view of the future was actually Soviet despotism—but they still understood that there were rules that had to be applied.
What we see today is the reverse. What we see today is a Russia that does not believe in the rules. In fact, it actively believes in no rules. What it is doing is seeking out every tie that binds, every alliance—everything that we hold dear and true—and trying to break them. That is why the repetition of lies by useful idiots, the propagandising of untruths by adjuncts, is not just a foolish thing to do and not just unwise but is actually and actively harmful. That is why we stay away from Russia Today and Sputnik: not because they show an alternative vision, but because they deliberately undermine the truth.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful speech with which I fully agree. When we were putting sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea, I was privy to information on discussions with the European Commission about how the octopus arms of the Russian state were all over the energy sector across the European Union and how it was using devious means to get its way. May I therefore invite him to take on the logic of his speech that we use not just military but diplomatic means, so that we can use energy policy to take the money away that is fuelling Mr Putin’s military and intelligence?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that I of course agree with him. Energy policy is essential to playing our hand properly. From this House, I urge my German friends, as I have done face to face, to not bow to the Russian idea of a pipeline straight to Germany. That would effectively remove the diplomatic and political leverage that countries to the east otherwise have. It would weaken Germany and it would weaken all of us, because we are stronger when we stand together and weaker when we are divided. We must look at eastern Europe not as a sphere of influence, and not, as some do, as an area in which the west has provoked Russia, as though the Ukrainian people are some sort of slave adjunct to the Russian empire. That is not true. They are free people, as we are free and as any country is free, and they have the right to determine their own future. Energy policy is being used as a weapon against them.
I must make some progress. I hope the House will forgive me as I speed through and point to a few of the violations and the lies that have been used. We have heard Crimea cited—the first time a border has been changed by force since the second world war. We have heard about the occupation of Georgia—I wish that Her Majesty’s Government would refer to it as such, because it is one—and we have heard time and again about the attacks in Montenegro, the lies in Berlin and the fraudulent electioneering in France and possibly even in the United States. We have heard again and again about these deceptions, and we must now hear much more actively about the response. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out some good starts and very strong ideas and I welcome them, but I now want to see them being used.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said the other day in the Committee that he was looking forward to seeing the Magnitsky Act being used, but that it was not a political tool. Technically, he is right: it is a legal tool and therefore for the police, but it will demand that our embassy staff, our intelligence officers and others put forward the cases, so that the police know who the human rights abusers are and who the people are who should be caught up in this. It will also require the tools of our diplomats and intelligence officers, so that we know who the oligarchs are who are part of the Russian/Kremlin/mafia-controlled kleptocracy. We need to know them and identify them, and by doing so, we need to act against them.
If I may, I will ask for one last thing: that we look at Russian sovereign debt being traded here in London even now. We hear again and again about the importance of London’s capital markets, and they will find few greater supporters than me, but through the London clearing house—an absolutely essential element of world trade that underpins in so many ways the debt markets that allow us all to prosper—we have links around the world. One of them is to Russian sovereign debt. The Russian Government, unlike other Governments, do not use Russian sovereign debt merely to finance themselves; they are now using it to sanctions bust. They are using their sovereign debt to refinance and capitalise organisations that have otherwise been banned. One of them is VTB Bank, which we heard about a little while ago—it has been reported on and I must pay tribute to Emile Simpson, who has done extraordinarily well to expose so many of these issues. We can use sovereign debt here too, as a tool and a weapon, because we are being fought on every single level in a cross-spectrum battle by an organisation that does not work for the Russian people, but feeds off them. It does not work for prosperity, but feeds off it, and it does not work for stability, but destroys it.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out, and I look forward to supporting her as she enacts those policies.
Order. As colleagues will see, we have a great many speakers this evening, so after the speech by the leader of the Scottish National party, I will impose a time limit of eight minutes.
The events that took place in Salisbury are a defining moment for our relationship with Russia. With that state-sponsored act of terrorism, Russia crossed a line. We should be gratified to see the response of our friends and allies across the world and recognise the seriousness and importance of the events that took place two weekends ago. I was saddened to hear the Prime Minister’s update on the condition of the Skripals. Our thoughts are with them and all those who have been caught up in the terrible events in Salisbury. They have our best wishes.
At a time like this, we need cool heads, but we also need to deliver a clear message to Russia that the activities that took place two weeks ago cannot and will not be tolerated. Russia cannot commit such acts with impunity. We have seen the co-ordinated response from our European and other allies today of the diplomats that are being sent back to Russia. That sends a very clear message by saying to Mr Putin, “This is an opportunity for you to recognise where you are going with the acts that have taken place.” The world is saying in a unified voice, “You must change, but we are extending the hand of friendship to the people of Russia. There must be change in the way that Russia behaves.”
We on the Scottish National party Benches welcome today’s opportunity to debate national security because many unanswered questions remain and the UK must address its defence weaknesses, including the reckless way in which Scotland’s coast has been left vulnerable to Russian encroachment both by submarine and aircraft. There is no doubt that Russia has form in ignoring international law and undermining state sovereignty. Russia has also denied that it was behind a chemical attack on Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006. He died after drinking a cup of tea that was laced with radioactive polonium-210. A public inquiry into the killing concluded that the Kremlin probably approved his assassination.
Across Europe, we see flagrant disregard for international law. After Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia signed association agreements with the EU in 2013, Russia saw those countries’ aspirations of closer ties with the EU as a threat to its influence in the region. That is in addition to Russia’s ongoing occupation in Georgia. The conflict has been prolonged and at times heightened as Russia carries out the illegal process known as “borderisation”. The illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the evidence that Russia supported separatist fighters in the east of Ukraine triggered an international crisis, but now we see Russia taking the lead in high-profile cyber-warfare—a 21st century threat that the UK Government need to recognise and be able to fully respond to.
US intelligence agencies described Russia as the world’s leading source of cyber-threats in 2015, and the trail of destruction is pretty telling. Russian hackers are accused of the September 2016 attack on German political parties and parliamentarians. In May 2017, they managed to hack into and leak email accounts linked to Macron’s presidential campaign. There is an ongoing investigation in the US on the role of Russian interference in the presidential election campaign of 2016. University of Edinburgh research has revealed that more than 400 Russian-run Twitter accounts that had been active in the US election had also been actively posting about Brexit during the EU referendum. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) confirmed in November 2017 that the Intelligence and Security Committee here in the UK would investigate Russian meddling in both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election. These are serious events that have taken place, and they deserve an appropriate response not only from us, but from our allies.
The Russian threat is clear and Scotland’s pivotal place in the high north is a critical point for UK national security. In January 2018, the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nick Carter, warned that the UK is trailing Russia in defence spending and capability. He noted that failure to keep up with Russia will leave the UK exposed, particularly to unorthodox, hybrid warfare of the kind practised by Russia and other potentially hostile states. Over the past 10 years, Russian air and marine activity off the coast of Scotland has significantly increased. Russian jets are regularly pressing on the Scottish coast—RAF jets were scrambled only in January—while Russian submarines are also regularly pressing on the Scottish coast, with recent sightings include those in November 2017.
Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia studies centre at the Henry Jackson Society noted:
“Russia’s submarines, which lurk off naval bases in Scotland, seek even more sensitive information: the ‘acoustic signature’ made by the…Vanguard submarines”.
It is an absolute disgrace that there have been no maritime patrol aircraft since the last Nimrod aircraft left service in 2012. Instead, Scotland, a maritime nation in a strategic position, relies on NATO allies deploying maritime patrol aircraft.
The UK Government have been well aware of the threat but have failed completely to do anything. The former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), whom I see in his place, told the Defence Committee in October 2017 that there had been an “extraordinary increase” in Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic.
Does my right hon. Friend lament the fact that far too often we have to rely on countries such as Canada, France and Norway to pick up the slack and that our NATO allies are concerned that, for all our projectionism around the world, we are not even looking after our own backyard?
That is exactly the point. We have lacked that maritime protection since 2012, and we have to deal with that as an absolute priority. We should not be relying on others to provide that maritime surveillance, particularly when we know that Russian aircraft and naval vessels have been coming up to the coast of Scotland. I call upon the Prime Minister to restate her Government’s commitment to purchasing all nine of the promised Poseidon P-8 aircraft to be based in Lossiemouth and, further, to give a firm date when we can expect these aircraft to be in place.
It is critical that the UK redouble its efforts to work with EU partners and the international community in response to Russia’s chemical attack in the UK. We in the SNP are concerned that the UK is isolating itself through Brexit, when working with our European friends is more important than ever. I call on the Prime Minister to have the UK remain a member of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council post Brexit, given the obvious necessity for us to work together on matters of foreign affairs.
The SNP has led calls for UK Government action on tackling Russian money laundering and strengthening financial sanctions. We welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement on Wednesday 14 March and want real action taken on both the Magnitsky amendments and tackling the use of Scottish limited partnerships as a legal means to facilitate organised crime, money laundering and tax evasion. We are not against the existence of SLPs, which were introduced by statute in 1907, but it is stunningly obvious that the process of registration—the fact that one does not need to pay tax in the UK or publish accounts—should shame us. We need to correct the fact that we have made it too easy not just for Russians but for other criminals and those wishing to launder money to do so through the vehicle of SLPs, and we must unite as a House and make it clear that we will work collectively to drive out from this country those who want to use the UK to shelter ill-gotten gains.
I see some looks of surprise on the faces of Government Members. Does my right hon. Friend agree it is important to appreciate that the regulation of SLPs is a reserved matter for this Parliament to sort out and that the Scottish Government have no power to do anything about it? It is up to this Government.
My hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. I appeal to the Government. We are in their hands and wish to work with them. We have all inherited this system and we all collectively have this responsibility. Will the Minister commit to introducing legislation in a timely manner, post the review the Government are doing, so that we can go after those who seek to launder money through the UK?
I can confirm that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) is absolutely right that this is a reserved matter and that the Government fully appreciate the seriousness of this issue. We understand not only how SLPs are improperly used but the importance of their being properly preserved for their original purpose. As the right hon. Gentleman knows—we met last week—we are determined to work closely with him to find a solution to this definite problem.
I thank the Minister for that response. He knows that I commit the SNP to working constructively with the Government if and when they bring forward legislation. It is important that we make this a priority.
The SNP will use all means possible to support organisations and communities in Russia working to build a better and more representative democracy. Support for Russia’s increasingly isolated civic society is more important than ever. We in the SNP are proud of the long-standing relations between Scotland and Russia. I pay tribute to broadcaster Billy Kay, whose BBC Radio Scotland series “The Scots in Russia” so perfectly highlighted the historical roles played by Scottish people in Russia.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. On the matter of cultural and historical ties between Scotland and Russia, does my right hon. Friend agree that prizes such as the Pushkin prize—a literary prize in memory of Alexander Pushkin, whose great-great-granddaughter lives in Scotland —which I won just over 20 years ago, as a result of which I spent some time in Russia, are very important and that the ties of friendship between people on the ground in both our countries must not be lost or severed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. We need to extend that hand of friendship. Our enemies are not the Russian people; our problem is with a regime that is acting irresponsibly and in contravention of international law. The people who are really suffering from the Russian regime, however, are the ordinary people, and we must do all we can to strengthen the ties and bonds we have over the longer term. It is regrettable that the Russians have decided to close the offices of the British Council in Moscow. It is very much a retrograde step. We need to find a way through this crisis. We need to show to Russia that we are resolute, but resolute to get to a better place. I recall during the cold war the Edinburgh conversations established by Professor Erickson that were so vital in finding a way forward to perestroika. Let us not lose that hope. We have to challenge the wrongdoing, but we must find a way out of this to normalise our relationships with Russia and its people.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) back from a very useful and engaging trip last week to Ukraine. The SNP will continue to work with communities who suffer under the watch of the Kremlin, regardless of where they are. Duma laws have systematically tried to stamp out grassroots organisations in Russia. A 2012 foreign agents law made it harder for the country’s non-governmental organisations to work with foreign donors. Any NGO receiving foreign funding is called a “foreign agent”. In 2017, there were 89 NGOs on the foreign agents list. The country’s discriminatory legislation on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is used to harass the community and disrupt pro-LGBT events, while the authorities largely fail to prevent or prosecute homophobic violence. Human Rights Watch has pointed out:
“The current human rights situation in Russia under President Putin is the worst it has been since the fall of the Soviet Union”.
The UK Government must redouble their efforts in engaging with NGOs on the ground in Russia, and the SNP will push for the UK to remain part of EU cultural programmes that help to that end.
I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. They have met the challenge of Salisbury clearly, firmly and deliberately. The response of the international community today simply underpins the resolution they have shown in dealing with this crisis.
The strength of our response, however, only underlines how our policy towards Russia has not worked. Yes, it was well intentioned, yes it was rational—we wanted to see Russia as a partner and a part of the rules-based international system—but it has not worked like that. Our actions have not deterred Russia from repeated misbehaviour. After Georgia came Crimea. There were sanctions. After those sanctions, thousands of Russian troops were deployed in the Donbass, and we had the shooting down of MH17, including the murder of 10 of our own citizens. Our response to the murder of Litvinenko clearly did not deter the attempted Salisbury murders. So we have to do more.
I note and welcome that the Government have reserved the right to deploy other measures beyond the expulsions—measures that must surely include making it more difficult for those close to the presidential Administration to do business, raise funds or buy property here in London.
Let me offer the House four thoughts, none of them particularly original. First, we must rise to the challenge of fake news: the ability of sophisticated enemies like Russia to obfuscate what should be clear, to foster conspiracy where none exists, and to tell blatant lies when they are pushed into a corner. It is the speed with which Russia is able to do that, using propaganda, social media, the “bots” and all the rest of it, that requires our response to be so much quicker. We need to deploy faster truth. I appreciate the difficulties of revealing or sharing intelligence, but when we have photographs of a mobile launcher that brought down an aircraft, and when we know that an agent as powerful as Novichok could only be developed in the highest-grade, most technically advanced state laboratory, we need to get those facts out far, far more quickly.
Secondly, this was an armed attack on a member of NATO. Under article 3 of the North Atlantic treaty, which is not quoted in the Chamber as often as article 5, NATO members agree
“to maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack”.
NATO must now renew its focus on the Russian threat. It must use the July summit to modernise its decision making, to make possible much more rapid deployment of troops and planes across NATO’s internal border, and, above all, to beef up its strategic communications, which are so often much less than the sum of their parts. We need a faster and more coherent response from NATO.
Thirdly, whether we in the House are remainers or Brexiteers, we need to come together now to support the security partnership that the Prime Minister described so well in her Munich speech. One obvious way in which to reinforce the security of what continues to be our continent is to help to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, which means—even as we leave the European Union—supporting the fledgling European energy market. I was delighted to note a reference to that in the Prime Minister’s earlier Mansion House speech. It means helping to increase diversity of supply across our continent, encouraging dual flows and shared coding, promoting more interconnection, and using our technology and our regulatory experience to continue to play a leading part in making the European energy market much more resilient.
Finally, we need to strengthen our defences. Yes, the Prime Minister was right to remind the House that we have had a rising defence budget since April 2016, and yes, we do meet the 2% target, but Russia is not spending 2% of its GDP on defence; it is spending more than 5% of its GDP on defence.
Does the former Secretary of State for Defence consider that spending 2% of our GDP on defence is not enough?
That is precisely the point that I am about to address. Russia is spending 5% of its GDP on conventional weapons, nuclear weapons, cyber and hybrids, and, as we now know, on a completely illegal chemical weapons programme. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the NATO 2% is a minimum and not a ceiling. I think the House should consider this—and I do not make the point in a party political way. In the last year of the last century, the Blair Government were spending 2.7% of GDP on defence. That was before 9/11, before Daesh terrorism, before Kim had his nuclear weapons, before cyber-attacks on our own Parliament, and before Russia became more malignant again. I was in the House in 1999, and I do not recall anyone suggesting that our armed forces were overfunded then.
If we want to continue to lead in NATO, on the ground in the Baltics, in the air over the Black sea, and in the North sea and the north Atlantic in anti-submarine warfare, if we want to go on playing our part in the counter-Daesh coalition, if we want to prop up fragile democracies in Afghanistan, Ukraine and Nigeria, if we want to go on contributing to United Nations peacekeeping in sub-Saharan Africa, and if we want to maintain a presence in the Gulf and recommit ourselves to protecting international trade routes in Asia-Pacific, we must will the means to do so. That means that, along with the modernisation programme that I know my right hon. Friends are now considering, we must now set our minds—and this is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—to a higher defence target. I have said publicly that I think we should commit ourselves, under the next spending review, to meeting a target of at least 2.5% of GDP by the end of the current Parliament.
If there is one thing that Salisbury has taught us and we have learnt all over again, it is that what Russia really understands is weakness—countries that will not stand up for themselves, will not protect their people, and will not protect their values and the freedoms that they enjoy. We have never been such a country, and Salisbury should remind us all that we never should be.
I warmly commend everything that the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) has just said, not least his final point that Russia only respects strength. In all honesty, I think that that could be made a bit more personal: I think that President Putin only respects strength. Indeed, when President Obama tried to press the reset button with Russia, he got absolutely nothing out of it, because President Putin simply took everything that he had and gave nothing back. Now we see that President Putin seems to be committed to some kind of arms race with the west as well. Indeed, he announced that just before what he calls a general election, although it is not really a general election in the sense that any of us would understand.
I think that we need to set this whole debate in the context of everything else that is true about Putin’s Russia now. The human rights abuses are endless. I find the murder of so many journalists in particular deeply offensive, especially when there have been absolutely no attempts to pursue those responsible. The most famous name is Anna Politkovskaya, but there are many others as well. There is also the repeated use of excessive force, whether it is in response to the Beslan siege in the school or the Moscow theatre siege, or in response to other abuses and political dissidents in Chechnya. Putin’s immediate response is excessive violence, and I think that that is what we saw on the streets of Salisbury as well. There are also the rigged elections.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is not just excessive violence, but excessive dishonesty? The instinctive response of the Russian regime was to lie about the invasion of Ukraine, just as it lied about MH17, and that is of particular concern.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In relation to Ukraine, however, what angered me more than anything else, in a sense, was the fact that the whole point of the Budapest accord was that all who signed up to it, including Russia and the United Kingdom, were guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine so that it would surrender its nuclear weapons. I suspect that if that had not happened, Putin would not subsequently have gone into Ukraine.
That is precisely the sort of long-term, deliberate pattern of lying and territorial ambition that I think is characteristic of the man—let alone the murder of political opponents such as Boris Nemtsov, and the trials that, in so many instances, do not even attempt to pretend to be fair. I went to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s second trial, which was clearly being run by a martinet of a judge who was simply taking orders directly from the Kremlin. Most extraordinarily, the criminal justice system is now being used in Russia to prosecute Sergei Magnitsky after his death. I sometimes think that those in the Putin regime want to believe that they are in a satire, because that is a way of cocking a snook at the rest of the world just to point out how much centralised power the regime has.
But even more disturbing in a sense for those who care about Russia and her people is the state of the economy: there have been dramatic cuts to the salaries and pensions of public sector workers in recent years; the average wage has fallen; and as for the death rate, people are dying younger now than they used to, which is an extraordinary phenomenon in a modern economy. The Russian economy was proclaimed some 10 years ago as one of the BRIC economies that was going to be the future of the world, growing and all the rest of it, but it is now stagnating, because it is to all intents and purposes a “monogorod”, an economy based on a single industry: petrocarbons. Russia’s economic growth rate is languishing at 1.2%. We might be having growth of only 1.2%, but an economy at its level in the world needs to be on 5%, 6%, 7% and 8% if it is not going to completely stagnate as a country and gross inequalities are not going to get worse.
What the Russians should have done for the last 10 years was build on their phenomenal human capital, because Russia is one of the most educated countries in the world, and tackle the corruption. Unfortunately, they have instead built on the corruption and tackled the education, so there is now a massive brain-drain of clever Russians leaving for elsewhere, and they have fallen further down the transparency list, as one of countries around the world with increasing corruption.
I personally find one of the most bizarre elements of the whole Putin charade his personal and his regime’s utter obsession with homosexuality. For a man who seems to like taking his shirt off more than any other political leader, that strikes me as phenomenally bizarre. [Interruption.] I gather he also likes Abba; what can I say?
What should the British response be both to this present situation and also to everything we have seen over recent years, as this is part of a pattern and should be seen as such? Some say we should tackle the Russian money that is swashing around in Britain, much of which might be dirty, and some say we should adopt a more robust political and defence posture. I think we need to do both. I know some are reluctant to tackle the financial issues and some are reluctant to tackle the defence issues, but we must do the two in harmony, which is in essence what the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks was saying.
On the defence side of what can be done, will the hon. Gentleman back the calls of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) that we should ask our allies to stop allowing the Russian fleet to refuel in their ports?
Yes, and, indeed, one of the first things I did when I knew about the incident in Salisbury was check with the Spanish ambassador whether Spain is maintaining its posture of refusing to allow Russian boats to refuel in Ceuta, and indeed it is; it has been very strong on this and is absolutely resolute with us, as it has been for the last 10 years.
Turning to some of the financial aspects, earlier in the debate I asked the Prime Minister about the tier 1 investor visa. This has to all intents and purposes acted as a magnet for some Russians who want to place their money, beyond the grasping hands of others in Russia or in other domains, in the UK, and hardly any questions have been asked. I hope the Government will now do a full review of the tier 1 investor visa.
Secondly, trusts in this country and in the dependent territories are used as a means of obscuring from public view the real owners of major assets including land and property. That needs to end. I am happy for the trust system to remain, because in many ways it is a strong element of our financial system, but it must be fully transparent because otherwise it is far too easy for Russians to hide their money. I hope the Government will review this matter. They have been asked time and again whether they will consider making the beneficial ownership of trusts a public register, rather than one that is only available to the authorities. That would be valuable, because the public and journalists in this country have done a phenomenal job in recent years of managing to winkle out additional financial information that others might not choose to bother looking at.
We also need to bring in full financial transparency in the overseas territories. I know that the Minister who is going to be closing the debate agrees with this policy, and I hope this might be an opportunity to twist their arms a little further up their backs, because otherwise it is too easy for someone like Mr Deripaska to buy a property in London, only not really buy it but buy it via a trust based in the British Virgin Islands and have it completely obscured from view. Some of us were taken on the kleptocracy tour last week, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is sitting on the Labour Front Bench, and one of the interesting facts is that quite often Russians are now buying houses in the UK deliberately for grossly inflated prices as a means of laundering their money via a third party. I hope the authorities are investigating that.
Turning to the more defence-related elements that we need to address, we must have properly sceptical investigation by the police and all the authorities—if necessary, the counter-terrorism authorities as well—of the 14 deaths of Russians in the last few years which have been suspicious, and not just those in the last couple of weeks. It seems unlikely that anybody would choose not to investigate, but it still seems possible that that might have happened. We also need full-spectrum readiness—more counter-intelligence, and more cyber-security—and we must also stand very strong with our NATO allies and, as the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks said, we need to devote more than 2% of our national income to defence.
We can see this through, but we will only do so by being robust and firm and steady—rather than by flip-flopping.
Near the end of the second world war, the joint intelligence sub-committee of the British Chiefs of Staff, as it was then, produced a report entitled “Relations with the Russians”. From years of experience of working with Russia against the Nazis, the JIC concluded that Russia would respect only strength as the basis for any future relationship. That mirrored Lord Palmerston’s view of almost a century earlier:
“The policy and practice of the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it met with decided resistance and then to wait for the next favourable opportunity.”
Not much has changed. Alexander Litvinenko died in London on 23 November 2006. Four days later, the BBC News website published an article headed “Russia law on killing ‘extremists’ abroad”. It is worth quoting it for the record:
“A new Russian law, adopted earlier in the year, formally permits the extrajudicial killings abroad of those Moscow accuses of ‘extremism’...In July, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament—the Federation Council—approved a law which permits the Russian president to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside Russia’s borders to combat terrorism and extremism.
At the same time, amendments to several other laws, governing the security services, mass media and communications, were adopted.
The overall result was to dramatically expand those defined as terrorist or extremist.
Along with those seeking to overthrow the Russian government, the term is also applied to ‘those causing mass disturbances, committing hooliganism or acts of vandalism’.
Much more controversially, the law also defines ‘those slandering the individual occupying the post of president of the Russian federation’ as extremists”,
so those who insult the President of Russia can legally be killed overseas according to this law. The BBC report concluded that
“the Russian law is very specific in that it permits the president—alone, and apparently without consultation—to take such a decision”,
so at least one hon. Member will not be on Vladimir Putin’s Christmas card list after his speech today.
If anyone had doubts about Russia’s responsibility for the Salisbury poisonings, its contemptuous failure to respond to the Prime Minister’s 24-hour deadline should swiftly have dispelled them. An innocent regime would have rushed to explain how a nerve agent that only it produced could have been acquired and employed by anyone else. We should also have been spared sarcastic suggestions in the Russian media that the United Kingdom was an unsafe place for “traitors” to settle, as well as the ludicrous claim that we ourselves were behind the attack. That was a charge straight from the playbook of those who blame the Jews for 9/11 and US intelligence for the Kennedy assassination.
Vladimir Putin is a product of the KGB schooled in the suppression of captive countries, steeped in the culture of communist domination and filled with regret that the Soviet empire imploded. According to him, its break-up was the greatest disaster of the 20th century—a revealing and curious choice when compared with the millions killed in two world wars, the Russian civil war, the forced collectivisations, the mass deportations and the hell of the gulag.
Until the Bolshevik revolution, there was some chance of Russia evolving along democratic lines, but then the cancer of Marxism-Leninism gave psychopaths and dictators their ideological excuse to seize total control. Their opponents were denounced as enemies of the people and put, or worked, to death with no semblance of due process. Now the ideology has gone, but the ruthless mindset remains. Russian leaders no longer claim to be building a workers’ paradise, but they still believe that western capitalists will sell them the rope with which to be hanged.
For 40 years from 1949, two factors ensured the containment of Russia and the maintenance of peace: the deterrent power of western nuclear weapons; and the collective security provided by article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty. No longer could an aggressor attack small European states without the Americans immediately entering the war. Yet such preparedness did not come cheaply. In the early 1960s, UK defence spending accounted for 6% of our GDP—the same percentage as welfare. The current welfare budget is six times the size of the defence budget. In the mid-1980s, defence constituted 5% of our GDP—the same percentage as education and health. The current education and health budgets are respectively two and a half and four times the size of the defence budget. In the changed strategic situation, this downgrading of defence cannot be allowed to continue.
Since 2016, the Defence Committee has been making the case for a defence budget target of 3% of GDP, which is what it used to be in the mid-1990s, even after the cuts following the collapse of the Soviet empire and the end of the cold war. The former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), has called for a 2.5% target by the end of this parliamentary term. His successor is squaring up for a battle with the Treasury, and that fight has to be won for the safety of us all and for the security of our country.
Does my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee think that the way to defeat a modern Russia is the same as the way in which we defeated the USSR? Reagan crushed the USSR’s economy through what was in effect an arms race between a strong and vibrant American economy and a weak Russian one. Does my right hon. Friend think that that could be a way forward?
I would certainly say that it is part of a way forward.
I will use the generous extra minute that I have been given to say that I am a little concerned about the fact that while the Government are right to recognise the existence of new threats, such as cyber threats, digital threats and intensified propaganda threats, including through the abuse of social media, and that we will need to devote resources to meet those new threats, that does not mean that the old threats or the old remedies to them have gone away. I do not like the conflation of national security budgets with defence budgets because that means that if we add more to the national security budget, we have to take more away from the defence budget, unless we listen to the warning from my right hon. Friend the former Defence Secretary, among others, that spending 2% of GDP on defence is not enough.
In my last few seconds, I cannot resist appealing once again to the Foreign Secretary—I am pleased to see him back on the Front Bench to hear my speech—to save the BBC Monitoring service at Caversham, which we are supposed to be going to visit. It costs £25 million year to keep it going, but it is going to be decimated and absorbed into a wider system that will not be as effective as the dedicated teams at Caversham. If it was true before that we need to save it, it is even more true now, after all that has happened in recent days.
Order. Speaking of generous extra minutes, I am afraid that after the next speaker, I shall be reducing the time limit to seven minutes.
I was glad that the Prime Minister started this debate by articulating the fact that this Parliament’s argument was not with the Russian nation or the diversity of its peoples. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will forgive me for saying this, but some of the comments from Government Front Benchers over the weekend were perhaps unnecessary as we try to promote dialogue at this extremely difficult time.
We must acknowledge that there is still no definitive proof that the Salisbury attack was carried out by the Russian regime. There has been no admission of any culpability and nor are we likely to receive any. However, there is no doubt in my mind that it fits a clear pattern of behaviour and threat escalation not only here in the UK, but in a host of other European states, particularly those on the post-Soviet periphery. This is most worrying, especially in a broader geostrategic context, as it has coincided with a defence industry modernisation programme in the Russian Federation that has led many, myself included, to fear that we could be about to enter a new and unwelcome arms race in Europe, which would be in no one’s interest.
Let us not forget that in President Trump’s first call with Vladimir Putin after his inauguration, the then new President of the United States called the New START treaty, due to last until 2021, one of the worst deals signed by the Obama Administration, saying that it favoured Russia. Let us be clear: if the New START treaty falls, a whole host of other arms control treaties and agreements will begin to unravel. This is, of course, a treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation, but the consequences for our own security are immense.
The evidence suggests that the UK is in a period of unprecedented weakness in terms of its ability to understand and interpret Russian strategy. Whether we like it or not, understanding Russia and its motivations is a fundamental duty of any Administration, yet I would contend that successive UK Governments have made a strategic decision to dismantle infrastructure, to disinvest from the necessary skills and people, and to divert funds that had previously been allocated to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence to allow those agencies to understand the Russian Federation and the old Soviet Union, and to help the Government to make informed policy decisions.
I will give one example of how this capability has been systematically dismantled. The Soviet Studies Research Centre was Sandhurst’s in-house think-tank on Russian military policy. It became the Conflict Studies Research Centre in 1992, but was then changed to a tri-service capability and moved to Shrivenham, with a resultant loss in capacity, in 2005. It then became the Advanced Research and Assessment Group in 2007 before finally folding in 2010. All that remains of the Army’s in-house capability, with its 40-odd years of institutional knowledge, is the Russian military studies archive, which is still based at Shrivenham and is itself struggling for long-term funding.
There is one gentleman—one Russian speaker —who mans that centre. I occasionally see him when he comes down from Scotland, and he is still going through the archives, which are effectively nothing more than a hugely understaffed glorified library. I agree that it is a great shame that ARAG was done away with just a couple of years after its most useful report into the Georgian war.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention highlights some of the issues around knowledge of the Russian Federation, and I also hope to meet that gentleman very soon.
Going back to the timeline of the Russian Federation, over the past decade or so we have had the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, the invasion of Georgia in 2008, Putin’s return to power in 2012, and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that, as the need to understand Russia’s growing assertiveness has increased, Governments of every colour have decreased the UK’s ability to get to grips with it. Quite simply, the UK’s inability to meet the upcoming strategic challenges that the Russian Government pose should cause us all concern. As we begin to contemplate a new era of increasing turbulence in global arms control, and as the prospect of a new arms race looms, we should all be scared.
In that context, the multiple examples of Russian donations to UK political parties seem particularly misjudged, and I hope that those parties would consider returning them. The ill-gotten gains from the stolen wealth of the Russian people has flowed through this city for far too long. It has entered into the bloodstream of politics. It has purchased property and greased the wheels of the financial sector. That that has happened while Governments have run down their understanding of Russia not only is complacent, but must finally be seen as an abdication of responsibility.
We must begin preparations for the post-Putin era, but who are the potential successors? It is likely that they will be of a generation that did not know the Soviet Union like Putin did. They will probably not come with the same KGB baggage that he did. That will be a huge potential opening, with the possibility of not repeating the past mistakes, made by both sides, that have led us to this profound point. That type of thinking cannot be done on the cheap, and I fear that a diplomatic service consumed by the difficulties—that is me being diplomatic —of Brexit will be unable to find the resources to do it.
Let me end by saying that while the horrific attack carried out against Sergei and Yulia Skripal may be a new low in our relations with the Government of the Russian Federation, we must not only push back firmly, as the Prime Minister indicated, but use it as a wakeup call. The potential for future misunderstanding and miscalculation is great, but let this violence not be in vain.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, which is well timed following the appalling and outrageous events in Salisbury barely three weeks ago. The question that must now be asked is whether Russia poses a threat to the national security of the United Kingdom and its allies. I believe that it does and that we are now entering a new period of Anglo-Russian relations. If not quite a cold war like we had in the last century, it is at least what I would call a “cool war” characterised by the aggressive actions of a Putin-led Government in Moscow and our strained relations with that Government as a result.
Assessing a threat classically involves an examination of both capabilities and intentions, so perhaps we should begin by taking a look at the development of Russian military capabilities in recent years. President Putin’s rather bellicose state of the union address, just prior to his re-election, contained references to new, ultra-long-range nuclear cruise missiles. Some of them can be launched by submarine or even underwater drones, he claimed, and are therefore capable of evading America’s limited ballistic missile defences. Analysts currently differ about the existence of such weapons. However, we know that the Russians have already developed a long-range, nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Kh-101, which is already being fitted to the strategic bomber aircraft of Russian long range aviation. In addition, the Russian strategic rocket forces deploy around 1,200 warheads in silo-based and road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Russians have an active modernisation programme under way for their strategic nuclear forces, which aims to replace all the old Soviet-era ICBMs by 2020, with many of the new missiles having multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles or MIRV warheads.
Russia’s strategic triad is completed by its ballistic missile submarines or SSBNs, including three new vessels of the Dolgorukiy class, armed with the new SS-N-32 ballistic missile. All the Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles can reach their targets from their home ports, and those in the northern fleet are more than capable of reaching the United Kingdom. In recent years, Russia has also made considerable strides in quietening its submarines, especially the new class of Severodvinsk nuclear attack submarines, which are now entering service. In addition, many of Russia’s submarines are now armed with the Kalibr land attack cruise missile, which is believed to have already been used in the conflict in Syria, where Russia has targeted civilian hospitals without mercy. Russian submarines have increased the tempo of their operations in recent years and have been frequent visitors to our home waters, and Russian submersibles have also apparently spent considerable time reconnoitring the transatlantic cables that carry so much of our financial services business between Europe and the United States. Last year, a Russian surface task group, including their Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and Peter the Great battlecruiser, sailed through the English channel en route to Syria.
Russia is also upgrading its ground forces. According to the previous vice-chief of the defence staff, General Sir Richard Barrons, during the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, two Ukrainian mechanised infantry battalions were located by a Russian surveillance drone and were effectively destroyed in under 15 minutes using rocket artillery. Russian long range aviation maintains over a hundred nuclear-capable strategic bombers including the Bear, Blackjack and Backfire aircraft, and a new fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57, is due to enter service in around 2020. Russian bomber aircraft now regularly encroach into our airspace and are regularly intercepted by our quick reaction alert Typhoons.
All of that adds up to a considerable increase in capability in both nuclear and conventional forces as part of a 10-year strategic armament programme, running from 2011 through to 2020. According to the United States Defence Intelligence Agency, Russia spent around 3% of its GDP on defence for much of that period, increasing to 4.5% of GDP last year. Russia’s ability to inflict violence on us and our allies has therefore increased considerably in recent years.
Discerning Russian intentions is in many ways more difficult, but we can certainly look at the actions of Russia over the past few years to try to get some hints of what might lie in Russian minds in future. It is clear that Russia has been prepared to use military power, allied with information warfare, to achieve its political objectives on the European landmass. There was the invasion of Georgia in 2008—I travelled to Georgia with David Cameron to support the Georgians—the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the effective invasion of eastern Ukraine, and the annexation of some of the eastern provinces. Pressure has also been put on the Baltic states, including a particularly virulent cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007.
In response to all that, we certainly need to maintain and upgrade our nuclear deterrent, as approved by an overwhelming vote in this House several years ago. We also need to upgrade our conventional defences, as we did in the 1980s when faced with the threat of the Soviet Union. Bluntly, that means spending the money to do so. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but he and I are right on this one.
The attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia seems primarily to have been intended as a signal to other potential Russian defectors to think again. Nevertheless, it represented a chemical weapons attack on British soil, which seriously injured a police officer, and led to some 30 other UK citizens requiring at least some medical attention. People who do that are not our friends.
As long as Putin remains in government, it seems that we must accept the reality of entering into a “cool war” with Russia for the foreseeable future. However, working with our NATO allies, we successfully deterred the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and the wall came down. We may now have to do it again.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am from a generation that was born as the cold war ended. I am also from a generation that does not want another to begin.
Let me be clear: it is an outrage that nerve agents have been used on the streets of a British city, in clear contravention of international law. It is appalling that people have been left fighting for their lives, including a policeman, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. I am sure that the whole House is relieved by the recent news that he has been discharged from hospital and was able to return to his family. We are lucky that other members of the public, who could also have been killed or injured, were not. If the evidence is clear and incontrovertible that the Russian state organised the attack, the measures that the Government have taken are commensurate with what any Government should do in such circumstances.
We need to send a clear message that banned nerve agents cannot be unleashed in this or any other country without robust consequences. However, the often hysterical, ill-informed and plain infantile attacks on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for calling on the Government to follow due diligence, and particularly the guidelines that the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons set out, are not only disgraceful but have not helped our case in the court of international opinion. I note that the Government quietly heeded my right hon. Friend’s advice.
To call for due diligence makes absolute sense. My generation is old enough to remember the so-called dodgy dossier that was used to take us into what many believe was an illegal war in Iraq. Politicising intelligence and turning it into propaganda is not the sort of activity that a democracy such as ours can ever be comfortable with. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right then, just as he was right on apartheid, Chile, Afghanistan and Libya. One would think that some Members of this House, who have been far less prescient, would have learned to show a little more humility towards someone who so often found himself on the right side of history.
My question today is: what sort of future relationship will Britain and indeed, Europe have with Russia in the longer term? If it is to be one of ever-growing suspicion and hostility, where could that lead? What sort of relationship does President Putin truly want with our country and with Germany, France and the other European countries that are important for future trade, development and peace?
I have been thinking about what my hon. Friend says about due diligence and due process, and of course he is right. However, President Putin presumes that we will do everything we can to ensure that there is proper process, a fair trial and so on in this country, but that would not be available to anybody in Russia. We have to face that. Having gone through the whole Litvinenko process when I was a Minister, I know that the worse thing for Marina Litvinenko was that it was impossible to have a proper trial because the Russians simply would not co-operate. We very slowly ended up with a judicial review and inquiry. We may end up having to do exactly the same thing this time, but we need to walk into this with our eyes wide open.
I do not disagree with anything my hon. Friend says. The UK’s role as a beacon and a light of hope in international law is as important as any other role we play.
At some point soon, it will be important to have a grown-up debate, beginning with some of Russia’s closest neighbours, which have the most to lose and gain from all this. At that point, we may also ask whether the Defence Secretary, who told Vladimir Putin to “shut up and go away”, has matured enough to take part in it. The policies that were played out in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union ultimately failed, and have helped contribute to where we are now. Russia has seldom helped itself either, even as some close to the Conservative party were helping themselves to some of its oligarchs’ rotten roubles, not least to help fund the Conservative party.
At some point soon, we will all have to step back from the brink and reset relations with Russia. This House can take pride in the work that this county has undertaken historically with the United Nations and others of destroying chemical and nerve weapon stocks, and bringing about international agreements designed to ensure that they are never used again. The world has been rightly appalled when chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria, and that is why the world is at one with Britain now over the use of nerve agents here.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises what happened to America in its relationship with Russia when President Obama pressed the reset button: absolutely nothing. President Putin grabbed the opportunity and moved on with his own policies. When the hon. Gentleman talks about agreements to end the use of chemical weapons and nerve agents, I stress that we have heard it all before from Russia, and I plead with him not to take at face value what the Russian state says.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman about taking things at face value, but I believe that there will be a day when we and the political leaders of this country and of other European countries seek to press the reset button again. Whether President Putin is there or not when that happens, we shall see what sort of success we have then.
The message is clear: we must bolster international law, working in co-operation with our international allies; put human rights at the heart of an ethical foreign policy; support and strengthen the United Nations, and use diplomacy to expand a progressive, rules-based, international system—rules that must apply to the strong as much as the weak.
The barbaric attack in Salisbury marks a new low in relations between our nations. That is sad, but right. Chemical weapons are vile because of the appalling suffering they cause and their indiscriminate nature. Whoever planted the nerve agent knew fine well that whoever came to the aid of those suffering was likely to be seriously injured. Completely innocent people—children going about their business—could have been affected.
The point has already been made, but we should make it crystal clear that our dispute is not with the Russian people. We mourn with them those who lost their lives in the shopping centre fire in Kemerovo. We acknowledge the courage and fortitude of the Russian people, particularly during what they call the great patriotic war, in which more than 20 million died. We pay tribute to what I believe can be described fairly as the genius of the Russian people. Russia produced Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov and so many others. We do not besmirch their reputation.
Our quarrel is with the Russian regime, which has shown itself to be unwilling or incapable of complying with the international rule of law and furthermore has demonstrated a worrying escalation in its behaviour. We know about Alexander Litvinenko and the downing of MH17, which caused appalling loss of life, especially among Dutch nationals. We know about the invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and plenty more. We have heard a little about cyber-attacks in Estonia, and now we know that it is highly likely that Russia is responsible for the attack in Salisbury.
So much of that is characterised by what the Russians call “maskirovka”, or deception—political and military deception. In plain English, it is a worrying instinct to lie, dissemble, deceive and disguise. The Russian Defence Minister described information as “another type of armed forces”. Moscow TV said that a three-year-old boy had been crucified in eastern Ukraine for speaking Russian. It soon emerged that that was completely untrue, but it is an eloquent example of the weaponisation of information. When several soldiers without insignia, referred to in the west as “little green men”, marched into Crimea, Vladimir Putin called them “local self-defence units”. That was plainly false, not least because he afterwards gave medals to Russian journalists who had clearly misrepresented the evidence in Crimea.
Then, to make matters worse, we have heard that the statements on this case that have come from the Russian embassy have been laced with sarcasm, scorn and contempt; most bizarrely of all, it has suggested that somehow the British could be involved. It is that instinctive recourse to dishonesty that is so concerning.
We should respond with cool heads and firm resolve. I respectfully commend the Prime Minister for her sure-footed and calibrated response; the expulsion of 23 diplomats was absolutely right. But let me say that in responding to Russia, which shows this instinctive willingness to go beyond the international rule of law, we should not abandon our commitment to integrity in the rule of law, but instead redouble it.
When we have in our sights individuals who may—it is suggested—have been involved in money laundering, it is for an independent Serious Fraud Office or an independent Crown Prosecution Service to weigh the evidence and consider fairly whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and whether it is in the public interest to do so. When such charges come before a court, it is for independent courts and independent juries to decide, without political interference, whether the charge has been made out. Decisions about whether things should be on our media—on our radio and on our television—should be the independent decisions of Ofcom, taken without political interference. By restating those principles, we mark ourselves out and apart from the brutal and very often dishonest Russian regime.
We should also calibrate our response on the basis of facts and not perception. Russia is of course a huge country, spanning 11 time zones, but it has always leveraged that geographical size to mask an underlying frailty. We should not forget that its economy is only about 60% of the size of the UK’s; that average life expectancy in Russia is a full 10 years less than that in the UK; that its economy has stagnated for a considerable time; and that it is only by spending more than 5% of its GDP on defence, at a great cost to health, education and social care in that country, that it can project the image of strength.
We in the UK must respond with sanctions, as we have heard, and by redoubling our efforts to go against the dirty money. We should also consider strong defence, and I invite the Government to listen carefully to suggestions that we need to increase our defence expenditure. However, in the time available, I just invite the Government to think carefully about cyber-warfare, and I say that as the Member for Cheltenham. It seems likely, does it not, that if there is to be an escalation in the future—let us hope that there will be not be—it could be in the world of cyber-warfare? We need to ensure that we have the best individuals in places such as GCHQ ready to defend our country and, if necessary, to exercise our sovereign offensive capability. That does mean resourcing it and ensuring that we have the resources to attract the brightest and the best. In short, let me say that in the face of this threat, and with apologies to Theodore Roosevelt, we should speak softly, speak wisely and carry a big stick.
May I start my remarks by repeating the welcome I gave to the Prime Minister earlier for the efforts the Government have undertaken to secure this impressive level of solidarity and support from our European friends and others? I welcome any personal role the Foreign Secretary played in that. This shows that they certainly have no doubt of Kremlin culpability, and I am sure they would have been given access to information that most Members have not had access to, which has helped them arrive at that conclusion, along with the clear evidence from Porton Down and elsewhere.
I warmly welcome the clear statement by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he accepts Russian culpability. I deprecate the barracking he received from some on the Government Members, most of whom are no longer here, having just popped in to barrack him. They have never been here for debates on Russia before and they did not even listen to what he had to say. That was deplorable behaviour, and I want to put that on the record.
I have been raising my concerns about Russia for many, many years. Indeed, when I first started raising concerns about 18 months ago about Russian interference in our democracy, I was treated as a bit of an eccentric, a crank and a conspiracy theorist. I started raising those concerns because of the evidence of what had happened in the United States presidential election. Having expressed those concerns, I found myself to be the recipient of a great deal of very interesting information, some of which has since come out. I have to tell hon. Members that a great deal more that is very serious is still to come out. I shall confine my remarks to my concerns about Russia’s propaganda and interference in democracy part of its hybrid war against the west. This is not just about the direct interference in elections or electoral systems; I want the Government to take seriously the attention paid by the Kremlin to political parties, think tanks and our educational establishment.
First, on elections, we know from the US about the extent of Kremlin interference in its presidential election and there is growing evidence here. I have to commend the Chair of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the work he and his Committee are doing to look into what happened here in terms of social media. I hope that when the Intelligence and Security Committee commences its work, it will look into that in even greater detail. I first raised this issue in a question to the Prime Minister in December 2016, and I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary could tell the House what action the Government took in response to my raising those concerns. Did they just leave the matter to the ongoing investigations of the Electoral Commission, or did they make their own inquiries and take up their own responsibilities for ensuring that our electoral systems are safe and secure?
I just want to give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that it was the Committee’s intention to look at the full spectrum of Russian activity.
That is extremely good news, and I very much welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Committee is doing that.
I would also like the Foreign Secretary to comment, if he can, on what the Government and their agencies are doing to take down Kremlin operations that seek to influence and infiltrate our political parties. He has a particular responsibility in this area, for example, to have satisfied himself that all those who have donated to his political party and to individual Conservative MPs, including some wealthy Russians here who give the impression of being Putin opponents, are in fact as stated. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the agencies that serve under him are working very hard to make sure that he can feel confident on that.
I invite the Foreign Secretary to task the agencies to investigate the United Kingdom Independence party—this is much more serious. We already know that there are close political ties here involving Farage, who has been named as a person of interest in the Mueller investigation; that Aaron Banks is also under investigation by the Electoral Commission; and that of course Jim Mellon, the co-founder of Leave.EU, has extensive business background and current investment interests in Russia. So I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary confirmed that as part of their investigations to counter criminal activities in this country, the Government are looking at some of the allegations that have been made around UKIP. Again, I first raised these concerns months and months ago.
Also, about 10 months ago, I highlighted concerns I had picked up about collusion between the leave campaign and these others bits of the leave campaign, such as BeLeave, to get around our strict electoral spending laws. At the same time, I also raised concerns about the role of Cambridge Analytica, and we have now seen the most extraordinary and shocking revelations this week from The Guardian, The New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “Channel 4 News” and others. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us whether the Government took the concerns I raised back then seriously and what they did about them.
Of course the other concerns that many of us have expressed was about the huge donation to the Democratic Unionist party for the leave campaign, whose source we are not allowed to know because, shockingly, the Government did not make the transparency of political donations in Northern Ireland retrospective. I hope that they will think again on that .The Electoral Commission has asked them to make that decision retrospective. It is always open to them to bring another motion to this House, so that we can do that and so that we can know and have confidence in the source of that huge donation. Again, a lot of that was spent on this digital advertising and digital work.
The United States has a powerful judicial investigation into Russian interference, under special counsel Mueller. Compare that with the farce this week of the Information Commissioner trying to get a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s office, which she finally managed to do late on Friday evening, having been trying all week. That clearly shows that our Electoral Commission, independent Information Commissioner and Select Committees do not have the powers they need to tackle this problem adequately. I hope that special counsel Mueller’s investigation will come up with more evidence and that the Foreign Secretary can reassure the House that all the various investigations into Russian interference in Britain are getting the full co-operation and support of all the Government’s agencies, because I have been told in the months past that that was not the case. I have since been reassured by Ministers that it is happening now, and would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary assured the House that he, the intelligences services and our other agencies are helping the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner and the Select Committees and providing them with anything that they ask for.
I could say a lot more on this subject, and I wanted to say more about the role of educational institutions, so I hope that the Foreign Secretary takes that on board. I have had a frustrating time trying to get some sense out of our universities—for example, those that employed Professor Mifsud, who has disappeared since being exposed in a Mueller indictment.
Let me say one more thing. On the issue of money, Bill Browder gave 12 other countries the dossiers that he has given to the British authorities. Those 12 other countries have prosecuted the people responsible; will the Secretary of State find out why that has not happened here and have a word with his fellow Ministers, to make sure that they act on the evidence with which they are provided?
Since marrying my half-Russian wife 34 years ago in the Russian orthodox cathedral in Gunnersbury, I have made it my business to try to understand Russian culture and Russian people. They certainly respect strength and people standing up to them.
It is a bit of a mystery why this murder was carried out in the way that it was. I think that it was carried out as it was to make it obvious that Russia had carried it out. There has been speculation that it was designed around the Russian election; I think that it was designed to make it absolutely clear that traitors will not be tolerated.
Let me talk a bit about the Russian mindset. When we think of people like Philby and Maclean, we look at them with amused contempt. The Russian views traitors with absolute hatred, because they have betrayed the motherland. I pay tribute to the Russian people, Russian culture and Russian literature. In Russia, there is a deep sense of victimhood, which arises from the second world war and its losses in that war. Our losses pale into insignificance compared with the losses suffered by the Russian people. That sense of victimhood is still there.
When I was last a delegate to the Council of Europe, I attended the previous Russian elections. There was no doubt that those elections were deeply flawed—Russian elections are deeply flawed—but also no doubt about the popularity of Mr Putin. Had he allowed a fair election, he almost certainly would have been elected, because the ordinary Russian felt that he was restoring some sort of pride to Russia.
There is a deep sense of despair and victimhood about how we treated Russia during the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I do not for a moment condone, defend or accept the annexation of Crimea, but the ordinary Russian remembers that there was an independence referendum in 1992 in which Ukraine voted more than 90% for independence and that there was an independence referendum in Crimea in which more than 90% voted for independence from Ukraine. In their view, Ukraine has always been part of Russia and is largely Russian, although they overlook the suffering of the Tatar people. All those facts are very strong in the Russian psyche, as is the attempt to detach Ukraine—which means borderland in Russian—from mother Russia.
My hon. Friend makes a series of important points and I am glad that he is making them. There are counter-arguments to them that I shall not go over now, but does he believe that one problem is that the Russians simply cannot imagine an independent Ukrainian identity that is separate from Russia? That is one of the driving factors behind the issue.
No, they cannot imagine that because Kiev is the source of the Rus’ people and the thousand-year-old history of the Russian Orthodox Church, to which Kiev is as much an integral part as Canterbury is to the Anglican communion. They cannot understand Ukraine as an independent entity.
None of this is to condone or in any way defend Russia. What are we going to do about this situation? First, as I said to the Prime Minister, we need to create a coalition of peace through security. Russia would not have been too concerned about the expulsion of 23 diplomats —that is tit for tat—but it would have been very concerned about the fact that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made alliances throughout Europe, that we have been listened to and that these expulsions have been going on today. Russia will be extremely concerned about that.
Secondly, we should not seek to copy Russia’s methods or attack it in the way that it attacks. We should be careful. I know that some Members want to close down RT. I do not defend RT in any shape or form, but we should leave it to Ofcom. We should leave it to due process, not political interference from this place. We should also be careful about what we do in respect of the City of London. It has a reputation throughout the world for fair dealing. We act on evidence. If there is evidence of criminality and dirty money, we must act on it, but we cannot attack Russians who invest in our country and in the City of London simply because they are Russian. That would be a mistake.
What do we do? We make alliances, which we have done, and we expel the diplomats. The point I have been making again and again, with the Chair of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who went way back and quoted Palmerston, is that Russians historically respect strength. We currently have just 800 men in the Baltic states. We have 150 in Poland. It is simply not enough. Surely, history proves to us that in dealing with Russia, words are not enough. Russians want to see action on the ground.
Why did we defeat the USSR in the cold war? It was not with words, but with solid determination to spend what needed to be spent on defence. We have heard the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), and we know the stresses on the defence budget. The Foreign Secretary should echo the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who said in the estimates debate not three weeks ago that spending 2% on defence was not enough. We should make a solid and real commitment to the Baltic states. That is what will concern Mr Putin: the determination to put troops on the ground. I know about all the pressures on the Government that are arising from health and many other things, but unless we are prepared to make that commitment—to do what Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan were prepared to do to bring down the Soviet Union—we will never counter the Russian threat.
Russia is not a natural enemy of our country. It is sometimes difficult to say that in this Chamber. We have had speech after speech condemning Russia. We are two powers at either end of Europe. From the days of Queen Elizabeth I, we have traded together. Russia is not and should not be an existential threat to this country. There has been a lot of talk about cyber-warfare. I have no doubt that Russia is attempting and engaging in cyber-warfare, but I do not believe that it could seriously affect our democracy. We should be proud of our democracy and determined that it is resilient. We must not indulge in Russophobia. We must be proportionate and determined, and we must be prepared to spend on defence what we need to spend.
I was going to conclude, but I shall take my right hon. and learned Friend’s intervention before I sit down.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend and think I share many of his sentiments, but the evidence of Russia’s behaviour in cyber-space is of the most extreme recklessness. It is totally outside the international rule of law and raises some very difficult challenges about how we deal with it.
Of course, I would not want for a moment to disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He knows what is going on and I echo what he says: the Russians are indulging in some attempt to destabilise our values. I make no defence of what they are doing; I just think that we are a sufficiently robust economy and democracy that we can weather it and that they will not change things fundamentally in our country. We should be aware of it, but we should have confidence in our self-reliance.
It is terribly important that we are serious about this subject. There is absolutely no point in our having this debate and attacking President Putin, only for all our attacks to completely wash off the Russian people, who do not want to be an extension of western Europe in their values, economy or anything else. What will have an effect on them? Is it words in this Chamber, or actions on the ground? Are actions on the ground enough? There may be no absolute real and present danger to our country, but there is to the Baltic states, not least because of their very sizable Russian minority.
I must finish now.
There is a very sizable minority of people in those states who are not that well treated. Many Russians believe fervently in their soul that those minorities are not well treated and that President Putin has the right to interfere. We have NATO. The Baltic states are not Ukraine. We must not allow what happened in 1940 to happen to the Baltic states. Therefore, words are not enough. We must will the means. We must spend more on defence and put the troops into the Baltic states.
I spent last weekend at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly gathering for the spring session in Vilnius. There was a statement from the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). We then discussed the attack that had taken place in the UK. I take great pleasure in telling Members that, from across political parties and across the nations of the Parliamentary Assembly, there was complete unanimity in condemning the attack and in recognising the source of the attack as coming from Putin’s Russia. The solidarity of the NATO alliance was wonderful to see.
This is not the first chemical weapons attack in the UK. We know of at least one other, and, yet, here we are again, deliberating on how we will look at our defence and security in the light of such attacks from Russia. We must understand that these attacks are part of an ongoing hybrid warfare—not peace, but not war. They are a challenge to NATO states, and a threatening message to those within the Russian dissident community that their lives are at risk if they oppose the Putin Government.
This is Russian hybrid warfare in action. The aim is to sow insecurity, distrust and disinformation, to influence, to confuse, and to demoralise. According to Russian defence doctrine, this practice is called IPb—information confrontation. Its aim is to provide both information and psychological effects, neutralising political opposition and diffusing recognition of Russia’s interference in business, banking and politics. Typically, the information contains a mixture of true and false information. The majority of the information is true. That builds a trust in all of the message, which means a vulnerability to the lies and the influence messages being sent out. The messages often fit with the pre-existing world view of the intended audience, so they are easier to accept. We know that this is happening, and I cannot say how much I disagree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) in his belief that we are immune to such attacks; clearly, we are not.
Across the alliance, we have seen a growth of cyber-enabled psychological operations, compromising networks gathering intelligence information that can be used to embarrass, discredit or falsify information that is leaked to the media. German troops serving in Lithuania have had phone calls, telling them that their wives are having affairs. Those calls are an attempt to destabilise those troops defending Lithuania.
NATO parliamentarians have received phone calls from apparent friends asking them for their views and opinions on political matters. The voice sounds just like their colleague, but, in fact, it is someone impersonating their colleague. The conversation is then relayed on Russian media.
Since 2010, Russia has been building what it terms “information confrontation”—a holistic concept ensuring information superiority both during peace and war. It consists of hacktivists and CyberBerkut—false persona carrying out denial-of-service attacks against NATO, Ukrainian, German, US and Estonian sites, among others. These people leak documents to demoralise and embarrass. Trolls are online commentators who seek to change the narrative of a story to turn it in Russia’s favour. The Russian Internet Research Agency blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin. Bots are automated pushers of content on social media. They drown out unwanted content or push a specific message, sometimes overwhelming the information space, drowning out real information and facts.
Interestingly, Russia does not believe in a free internet for its own subjects. It has laws curbing domestic media and increasing control of technology and content; it bans websites; monitors online activity and limits news media ownership. During a Defence Committee visit to Russia, we took evidence about the intimidation and murder of journalists and the constant harassment and intimidation of political figures.
We must wake up. The west is being attacked. Systematic information warfare is being waged against us. We should not see the attack in Salisbury as simply a chemical attack; it is part of a concerted attack. I urge the Government to establish an independent Russia commission to examine the role that Russia is playing in our social media and in our financial, business, political and legal spheres. We need to educate our public, as the Lithuanians have done, in how to recognise these cyber-enabled psychological operations.
The public needs to know that there is a campaign to destroy and disrupt NATO command, control, communications and intelligence capabilities. This is all very real to the 800 British soldiers heading up the forces in the enhanced forward presence in Estonia. They are there to protect Estonia and to enhance Euro-Atlantic security. The men and women of the Royal Welsh are providing the alliance’s combat-capable infantry force. Estonia is now Britain’s eastern border, so an attack on the Baltic states is an attack on Britain. We must recognise that and understand that our forces are now our frontline.
Distrust, disinformation and disregard sum up the Russian approach towards the latest, and arguably most serious, situation we are witnessing towards our country and our allies. Our allies and our people require us to stay strong and to acknowledge the threats that are being sent in our direction.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon).
Without sounding too dramatic, the most important thing that we can do is to avoid conflict with the Russian Federation. Everything that I say is predicated on that simple point. It is also predicated on the fact that our adversary is the Kremlin, not the Russian people. Having said that, I will focus in my brief speech on three things, which are that we need to accept, to understand and to act.
First, we need to accept that we are in a new cold war with the Russians. I know that some people do not like using that term, but I think that it is valid and honest. We need to accept that President Putin is trying to undermine the current state system, that he is trying to break it, and that he may well try for a more aggressive gamble in his final term. When we have troops on the Russian border ourselves, it is complacent to say that there is not a potential existential threat—and I say that with great respect to those who have argued against that point.
Secondly, we need to understand. We need to understand the nature of Russia’s new warfare and, in general, the global threat that authoritarian states now pose to free societies.
Thirdly, we need to act, not in a shouty, finger-pointing, stick-waving kind of way, but in a consistent and robust manner. We need to relearn the art of deterrence and, frankly, the art of strategy.
We are in a new cold war. The definition of a cold war is a state of political hostility between countries that is characterised by threats, propaganda and other measures short of open war. This is not the cold war, but it is a cold war. It has probably been ongoing—although we have not wanted to recognise it—since about 2007, it was probably announced by President Putin in his Munich security speech and it has probably been in the planning since 2000. But those who were in Moldova, Georgia or such places in the early 1990s, as I was, would have seen the initial revisionist push by the Russian state or by elements within the security services—siloviki—back in the late 1990s as the Soviet Union was collapsing.
Hybrid war is one of, I think, about 25 terms that have been used thus far. It is broadly a sophisticated and integrated form of state control based on multiple forms of state power, used in a highly co-ordinated and coercive fashion. It is basically the old active measures of KGB warfare—disinformation, proxy political and armed groups, and assassinations—around which have been gathered the full spectrum of state power. The research that I have been doing in the past few years shows that there are least 50 tools. Indeed, the first characteristic of Russian contemporary warfare is what Russia calls the integrated use of military and non-military tools.
What we see as hybrid war—trolls, hackers and gangsters, although we get the Bear bombers so there is a military aspect as well—is the useable element of a full spectrum that includes nuclear weapons, nuclear theory and conventional weapons, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) mentioned earlier. It is important for us—especially people who are not favourable to this argument—to note that many, although not all, of the Zapad western exercises conducted every year end with a nuclear strike. Now, as anyone who has participated in military exercises knows, they are not planned for fantasy scenarios. They are planned for the most likely or the most dangerous course of action. If the Russians plan the use of nuclear strikes on cities in eastern Europe as a gambit or a tactic, one has to take that seriously. They are not doing it for a laugh; they are doing it because they are testing and looking at options.
Russian power tools can be divided into six: politics and political violence; governance; economics and energy; military power; diplomacy and public outreach; information and narrative warfare. That is all wrapped around command and control, which in our world is surprisingly short and goes up to Putin in not very many stages. That is rare compared to the west, where there is an endless chain of brigade, division, command and control before it gets to a political level. This is a highly political—Clausewitzian, I think, is the term—form of warfare.
We need to act. Russian warfare is holistic and full spectrum. Our response should be too. On top of the good things that this Government have already done, I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgend that we need a commission. Back in the 1980s, the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence did wonderful work, methodically exposing Russian disinformation. We need Parliament or the Government to establish a working group or organisation of some kind with a UK and global remit to look ruthlessly into Russian full-spectrum warfare and expose it. We can then tell our own people what we are doing. We can tell the Greeks, people in Cyprus and people in France. We can tell the world. This is important. I have suggested this before and it would be wonderful to get some traction with the Secretary of State.
On the financial authorities stuff, we should just adopt Transparency International’s list, but I will not touch that because I know that we are doing good work there. Let us introduce a named list for agents of Russian influence in the UK, including Members of the House of Lords, some of whom I understand have been working for some very questionable oligarchs.
The US is this week bringing in a counter-propaganda Bill that puts a health warning on authoritarian broadcasters operating in the west. We need that. The Russians may well respond in kind. I do not care. We need to protect our democracy and our elections. The time to realise that our elections are being meddled with is not mid-way through a campaign; it is before.
On misinformation, does my hon. Friend agree that money spent on negative messaging is much more damaging than efforts that we can counter with positive messaging? Negative messaging undermines the voter and is much more difficult to counter with the positive.
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. The Russian tactic is not to build up brand A as opposed to brand B; it is just to destroy brand B. That is what the Russians did with Hillary Clinton. They were not really concerned about being nice to Donald Trump. They wanted to destroy any opposition. I suggested in one of the Sunday papers that the Russians might break into the servers of both political parties and ruthlessly leak the information in as damaging a way as possible from one, and they would do that in the weeks and months before an election campaign. That is a bit of a modus vivendi.
We need to work with the US and NATO. It is great having a few hundred troops in the Baltic, but it is entirely negligible in the great scheme of things, frankly, especially when the Russians are building up missile dominance, tactical nuclear weapons dominance, and conventional dominance. We need to think about what sorts of things NATO is doing to counter this. If we counter and block off the Russian threat, we are more likely to get them to talk, and my fear is that they will not do so.
We need to offer a grand bargain to Ukraine. The Prime Minister mentioned some money being sent to Ukraine—£42 million in total. It is about very small amounts of money. The weaker Ukraine is, the more likely that we will have great instability in eastern Europe. We need to block the Russians in the Balkans—and soon, before they export the “managed conflict” model there. We need to properly fund the BBC World Service and boost the BBC Russian Service more than is being done, although there has been good work so far. Finally, we need to look at the visa regime to allow ordinary Russians to come here and prevent dodgy oligarchs from doing so, rather than the other way round.
It has been a pleasure to listen to the real insight and knowledge that the new hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) brings to the Chamber on this subject, in particular.
It does feel as though we are now in a significant place, particularly as a result of the co-ordinated expulsions. I will be frank: I did not have full faith that the Government were actually going to be able to get to this point and convince our allies to go as far as they did. Clearly, difficult months—and potentially years—are ahead, and they are made more difficult by our exit from the European Union, but we should acknowledge what has happened today. It is a level of co-ordinated action that I do not think the Russians will have expected, and it ought to make a significant difference in the necessary pushback against them.
It was interesting to listen to the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), a former Defence Secretary, because what I took from his speech was a pretty thoughtful recognition and admission that the Government have not got their strategy against Russia right in recent years. Their laudably aimed overall strategy of resolutely turning the other cheek to transgression after transgression has partly left us in this situation today. A greater level of resolve has been needed from the UK and others to counter that, but it is good to see it now. We must never get back to the situation we were in before.
That is why it is important to reinvestigate the 14 deaths that have been highlighted—all those where there is any existing suspicion. All of us in this House are looking intently at the criminal investigation into Nikolai Glushkov’s death which, as I said to the Prime Minister earlier, took place only eight days after the Salisbury attack. This was the death of a man who was clearly also in President Putin’s sights. The conclusion on this must not be allowed to slip away, as I fear has happened in previous instances over recent years.
So what is needed now? There have been many excellent suggestions from hon. Members on both sides of the House; let me briefly add a few. When Bill Browder came to the House to brief Labour Members on the Magnitsky Act in the US and the need for such powers here, what he said was deeply persuasive. It is important that the Government do not shy away from a full-blooded translation of that principle into UK law.
The defence budget has rightly been mentioned by many Members. Of course it needs to rise beyond 2% of GDP. It also needs to rise beyond a genuine 2%, not the fiddled 2% that has been accepted by Ministers—I recognise that they have been in a difficult situation, but we have to get back to genuine accounting. It has to rise significantly, including in the battle for the submarine space.
It was crazy that we ever got close to debating whether boat seven of the Astute class SSNs could be scrapped after so much money was spent on it. The damage that that would have done to our underwater capability is frightening, even if we were looking at the status quo; of course, we are not doing that. We have heard from many people that the Russians are pouring in money, particularly for submarine technology, so the SSNs need to be kept on track.
The Dreadnought programme must be given the money needed for up-front spending, rather than funds being salami-sliced over years in a way that will make the programme inefficient and could mean that we lose our continuous deterrent capability for the first time since its launch in the 1960s. We also have to accelerate future capability funding. That has been going on in dribs and drabs for some years, but its significance has greatly increased, given what we are facing.
Many people have talked about cyber-deterrence. We will have to be clearer about the capability that has been developed in the UK and our potential to use it in retaliation. In the same way in which we seek to maintain the nuclear deterrent but never use it, that has to be a credible threat to deter the kind of state attack that we must now fear could come to UK shores.
In the minute I have left, I will briefly say something about due process. It is really important that the UK is at the forefront of showing that we follow due process, uphold the rule of law and are more transparent than Russia will ever be. There will always be endless threads to tug that are suggested in various ways by the Russian Federation, but we must not go down those routes. The idea that it was in any way credible to send the Russians a sample of the Novichok so that they could decide whether it was theirs was ludicrous. We should have confidence in our values and in the country. If we do that and stay the course, we will be able to prevail.
Order. We will have to go down to a six-minute limit on speeches to accommodate everybody.
Three weeks ago, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked in the heart of our country. All the evidence overwhelmingly points to the nerve agents coming from Russia, and most probably being administered on behalf of or on the orders of the Russian Government. Once again, despite the means, the motive and the express intention of the Russian President in the past, the only response to those attempted murders on the streets of England has essentially been a Russian, “It wasn’t me.”
That cannot come entirely as a surprise. We have seen it before. Twelve years ago, Alexander Litvinenko was killed with a chemical agent in one of our cities in Britain. Sir Robert Owen found in his inquiry:
“Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me, I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”
Yet the Russian Government still deny any knowledge or involvement, and they parade those accused of direct involvement in the murder, including in fact one of their parliamentarians, on television. President Putin seems to believe that he can act with impunity whether with direct killings and attacks in our country, or less prominently through cyber-warfare and covert operations. The only thing that is not clear is whether he believes that Russia will not be found responsible, or if he just does not care.
The truth is that it is not only in the United Kingdom that Russia is posing a direct and immediate threat to security. During my time as an alternate Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have had the opportunity to speak to parliamentarians from countries around Europe who see the impact of Russian aggression and expansionism on their own nations. In 2008, there was the invasion of Georgia and the annexation of South Ossetia. In 2014, there was the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. During the past couple of decades, there has been the constant destabilising effect of the Russian state in Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite posing as an intermediary or arbiter, Russia’s impact has consistently been to try to keep the region as unstable as possible, because it has very much been in the interests of the Russian state to keep Armenia and Azerbaijan in a state of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Today’s co-ordinated action is extremely welcome. As has been said, it is likely that it was not expected by the Russian Government—I am not sure it was entirely expected by all Members of this House—and that probably multiplies its effectiveness. It is precisely because we want to minimise the risk of armed military conflict that we must maximise the effectiveness of our diplomatic and security response.
It has been heartening to see such broad support from Members of all parties across the House, which is why what we heard from one Opposition Member about the attempted murders here in Britain is so disheartening. That Member, who is no longer in the Chamber, has described as enemies those who have chosen to speak in support of effective action—not those who have carried out the attempted murders, but Opposition Members who have dared to support a Conservative Prime Minister in standing up for British security, and for effective action to safeguard people in this country.
The many Opposition Members who have backed an effective response will sooner or later have to decide whether they trust their own leader—on the basis of the decisions he has taken and the instincts he has shown over the past few weeks—to manage Britain’s security by ever putting him into No. 10 Downing Street. If the first duty of the Government is to protect the security of this country, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has demonstrated over and over again the fundamental strength of character that makes her so suitable for the role. I am not sure that the same can be said for the leader—
I know this has been said by others, but it is worth repeating that Russia is a great country, and its people have contributed so much to the international community and to broader human civilisation. I think about the close connections historically with the United Kingdom, such as those between Peter the Great and the dockyards at Chatham, but also about those with Scotland—about the educators of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and about educators and authors such as Lermontov, who had Scottish ancestry.
The first victims of what has happened in Russia are the Russian people themselves. The appalling inequality and poverty we have seen over the years have had a devastating impact on those people and are a direct consequence of the actions of the Russian Government. We look at the mothers of Russia who stick up for the rights of the young men and women who have served in the Russian armed forces, as well as at human rights activists, Opposition politicians and journalists. Russia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, a human rights activist or an Opposition politician.
As the hon. Members for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) and others have rightly pointed out, the behaviour we have seen from Russia in recent times is part of a pattern. In Georgia, we saw the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia over 20 years ago, and we have seen very similar patterns in Ukraine recently. In Chechnya, we have seen disappearances, and Grozny is one of the most bombed cities in the whole of Europe. We have seen there what President Putin is capable of doing to those who sit under his jurisdiction and to his own people, and that is something we should reflect on—they are the first victims.
However, today’s debate is on national security, and one issue I hope the Foreign Secretary will pick up on in his remarks is the high north strategy. [Interruption.] It is very important to the Foreign Office, as the Foreign Secretary is clearly intimating. However, the high north strategy opens up security challenges as well as opportunities. With the busyness of the northern sea routes, we see trading opportunities but also challenges, as has been demonstrated in the Moray firth and elsewhere, and we have had Russian aircraft carriers just off the coast of Scotland, with a 24-hour response time from the Navy. The high north strategy is increasingly important to our European partners, but it must also become increasingly important to the United Kingdom Government. We should be further developing close links with our partners in the Baltic states as well.
Talking of which, it is noticeable that, in recent times, Russia’s neighbours, the Baltic states, have looked towards their relationship with the United Kingdom and others. We have seen planes scrambled from Lossiemouth, but we have also seen the important role that Leuchars in my constituency played for many, many years. I see the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), and I hope he does not mind me referencing his constituency in that regard.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight was right to point to the western Balkans and to some of Russia’s recent actions there. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will also refer to the commitment to the security of the western Balkans in his summing up, because it should be important to us all.
Do the complex challenges that my hon. Friend is laying out, and the different, complex responses that are needed, not show even more the folly of the blunt instrument of investing all this money in Trident, which is increasingly irrelevant in responding to those challenges?
As usual, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
You don’t believe it.
We absolutely believe it. In these times, we should be investing in our security infrastructure and in our relationship with our European partners. Let us look at the rebuilding of Bosnia: it has taken 25 years, and it is an ongoing project. If we look at security and areas where we have taken our eye off the ball—let us look at Libya, where we took our eye off the ball—we see that no amount of nuclear weapons will protect us and add to security in those areas. However, investment in the long-term security of our partners, not least in the western Balkans and the former Soviet sphere, is something we should be committed to. I acknowledge that that is something that Members on both sides of the House are committed to as well.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that now is not the time or place to renew the old debate about nuclear weapons, particularly as the issue has been settled by a vote in this House, but can we not agree on a cross-party basis with the proposition that 2% spent on defence is not enough?
What I will say to the right hon. Gentleman—this is why this debate is important—is that £160 billion, at a time when GDP is due to go down the plughole, is money we can ill afford. [Interruption.] “Says who?” says an hon. Member from the Treasury Bench. Says your own Government figures. Remarkable! Courageous indeed from the Government Front Bench, but I respectfully disagree. That £160 billion is money that could be better spent on security and on securing our eastern borders.
The values we share with our European partners and our commitment to human rights are incredibly important. I know that Members across the House do not agree with the Scottish National party on remaining part of the European Union, but I think we can agree—this has been touched on—that we must remain vigilant when faced with a challenge such as the one we face from the Russian Federation. The best way to respond is through a commitment to human rights, a commitment to development and a commitment to an equal partnership of democracies across Europe. We must be vigilant and we must speak truth unto our friends in places such as Poland, Hungary and, dare I say it, Spain. Europe has been important for our security and it will continue to be important for our security. This is a time for friends.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) made an excellent point about finances and I raised Scottish limited partnerships with the Foreign Secretary in Committee. I hope he will, in a bit more detail, touch on the financial measures that should be taken. I think he has cross-party respect on that issue.
The horrifying events that recently unfolded in Salisbury, just a short train ride from my constituency, seem all too close to home. You may think it inappropriate to mention Taunton Deane in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, but just this weekend I met a 19-year-old constituent with a great future ahead of him who expressed to me how fearful the incident, together with other recent terrorist attacks, made him feel. That shocked me and brought home to me how important it is that our Prime Minister is taking a very important stance in dealing with the Russian threat.
I am pleased that the House has come together in condemnation of the Salisbury incident and in condemnation of Russia’s violation of international law. I am pleased to support the Prime Minister’s strong leadership on this issue, signalling this country’s deep concerns and outlining the measures being put in place to keep us safe. I hope that this will demonstrate to my 19-year-old constituent that he need not fear, because we cannot live like that.
Mr Skripal and his daughter were not simply the targets of an unlawful attack on UK soil. They were attacked with a Russian-made military nerve agent, an indiscriminate weapon that poisoned the first police officer on the scene, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, and had the potential to harm a further 130 people going about their daily lives. Let us have a look at the nerve agent, novichok. Such nerve agents stop the victim’s muscles from relaxing, painfully seizing them. I am told that soon after exposure the victim becomes nauseous and loses control of their bodily functions. Their eyes and lungs will blister and burn, and this is followed by epileptic seizures. I find it shocking that such a weapon, which is designed to kill its victims in such a painful and audacious way, could have been unleashed on UK soil. Incredibly, Russia has failed to explain how a Russian nerve agent was deployed on British streets. The Prime Minister outlined today that no other country has the capability to carry out such an attack and that it is the unanimous view of the European Council that that is the case.
The Prime Minister’s clear and decisive action in the face of the Salisbury incident is to be commended. Her true strength, I truly believe, shone forth, not least in the bold decision to dismantle Russia’s espionage network by expelling 23 Russian diplomats from the UK. We heard the news today that a large number of other countries, 21 in total, are following suit and expelling a further 100 Russian diplomats. That is to be commended. It clearly demonstrates that we are not alone in our actions, and that we do indeed, as the Prime Minister said, stand shoulder to shoulder with EU and NATO colleagues and are all tackling this global security issue together. I will not go into the raft of proposals that the Government are putting in place to help with this security threat, because those have all been touched on today, but like other Members and colleagues, I reiterate that we do not have an argument with the Russian people. The Prime Minister’s response is not based on Russophobia, as suggested by Moscow and various Russian television stations. The good, law-abiding people of Russia are always welcome here.
I want to touch on the misinformation that is being spread about the UK in relation to the Salisbury incident. These preposterous contradictory theories, spread through fake videos and fake graphics by Russian television and other broadcast outlets that it has a hand in to detract from Russia’s violation of international law, are absolutely appalling. I venture to say that increasing the reach of our trusted World Service would be beneficial, and that there is a very strong case for a World Service television broadcasting platform in addition to the highly professional World Service radio platform, so that good, sound democracy—and all that it stands for—and trusted information are transmitted much more widely, especially in the Baltic regions. In addition, I venture to suggest that Ofcom needs to look closely at media outlets that are allegedly broadcasting Russian propaganda from our own shores.
To wrap up, I am fully behind the Prime Minister’s efforts to work with our international partners to defend our security, to make a stand for our values and to send a clear message that any reckless act against the UK and assaults on our fundamental values will not be tolerated. This is the kind of action that will ensure that my 19-year-old constituent, with his whole life ahead of him, will be able to live safely and securely.
I appreciate the debate that we are having today on this very important issue. I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised, by the slightly shrill tone from Government Members during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but I must say that the tone has greatly improved. I commend my right hon. Friend for his response to these attacks. It has often been misinterpreted—I hope not deliberately, but one can never judge that totally—but it has been about proportionality and ensuring that we do not get ahead of ourselves and refrain from unnecessarily inflaming language such as, “Shut up and go away.” It is also worth noting that few have worked harder in this place than the Leader of the Opposition on peace, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.
I remember being asked in St Petersburg by the Minister of Education in the Russian Government at the time to leave that city after I condemned them for their ongoing human rights abuses. I wonder how many MPs in this Chamber can say that they have stood up to a Russian Minister and been asked to leave the country. I suspect very few, so it is important that we also respect the different ways in which many of us wish to express condemnation of ongoing human rights abuses in Russia without suggestions that some of us are traitors or without us having to face other horrible things that have been said in the media.
Diplomacy works, of course, as we have seen in this case—and the Government should be applauded for securing co-ordinated multilateral action and making a show of strength—but is that not exactly what the Leader of the Opposition called for when he said he wanted our action to be co-ordinated? It is welcome that the Government listened.
But does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was at least a tad naive to call for a sample of the nerve agent to be sent to the Russians? Was that not a mis-step by the Leader of the Opposition?
The important point was that a sample should go for independent verification and through all the appropriate processes. Whether it needed to go to Russia or The Hague was, of course, for The Hague to determine.
Diplomacy must, however, be backed by strong financial sanctions, and of course corruption is rife in many of our companies that channel Russian money. That is why we need stronger anti-corruption and money laundering laws. Several of us suggested amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill that would have allowed the Government more easily to shut down brass-plate companies used in sanctions busting and money laundering. It would have been welcome had the Government accepted them, but they rejected them in the other place, because, they said, they could have infringed the human rights of sanctions busters. I hope they will reconsider.
We suggested sensible changes under which the burden of proof on sanctions busting and money laundering would not have had to come from the UK. Brass-plate companies tend to use the UK as a front, of course, and do not do the illegal or nefarious activity here, so a criminal bar for shutting them down will never be acceptable; we will always need an intelligence-led solution. Transparency around beneficial ownership will be vital, too, if we are to follow the money and hurt people who hurt our country where it matters—in their pockets.
That is the kind of robust leadership we can expect from the Labour party and which we could expect from a Labour Government—one who works within international frameworks, shuts down loopholes and brings our allies along with us, even if that means pausing and waiting a few moments. While Labour has called for cool heads, some Government Members have not, but I am delighted that we have now moved forward with co-ordinated action. There are, however, other things to do. Members have talked about the ongoing IT security threat that Russia poses. We must consider investing in security technologies based on crypto-graphics and tackling the real danger that Russia poses in systematically using social media—not illegally but not alone—to determine fake news. It is not the first time, of course, that Britain has had the media seek to infiltrate elections, and it will not be the last, which is why things such as Leveson and other media regulation inquiries are so important. That is why Leveson 2, which would have looked at standards in our media, much of which, of course, is also owned by foreign interests, would have been an important step forward.
There are things that we can continue to do—shutting down the corruption in our City would be one of them—but we must applaud both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister for keeping level heads and we must not refer to people as “traitors” or “enemies”. We are in this together.
Order. I have to reduce the time limit to five minutes to get everybody in.
The disgraceful chemical attack in Salisbury—which I believe is a slightly longer train ride from East Renfrewshire than from Taunton Deane—is a particularly shocking example of the Russian Government’s habit of acting without respect for national borders or international rules and norms.
Russia has acted in this way for a long time, growing bolder, escalating, and interfering further and further beyond its own borders. The threat that it poses to our national security can be seen in its treatment of its neighbours. In both the Yeltsin and the Putin eras, Russia has interfered in those countries with impunity. It is now nearly 10 years since its aggression against Georgia in 2008, when it illicitly invaded Georgian territory and launched a full-scale occupation of two so-called breakaway republics. That led to the expulsion of ethnic Georgians from parts of their own country. However, the interference and aggression go back much further. In the early 1990s, it was Russia that interfered in Georgia and helped to establish those false republics in the first place, and that led to the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist-controlled areas.
According to a census conducted by the separatists, just 46,000 Georgians remained in the Abkhazia region in 2011, more than 80% fewer than in 1989. In South Ossetia, there has been a reduction of more than 85% since 1989. Houses belonging to ethnic Georgians in the Russian-occupied areas have been razed to the ground. The ethnic Georgians who have remained in those areas have been denied access to education in their native language, denied freedom of movement within the rest of Georgia, forced to change their names and ethnic identity and compelled to register as “foreigners” in their own land. The Russians’ objective is clear: to dramatically change the demographics of those regions by force, to reduce and remove the Georgian population and to undermine the status of the regions as integral parts of Georgia.
Georgians are a proudly independent people who want to be free in their own country and to make their own way in the world without being controlled by Moscow. The Georgian Centre in Scotland, which is based in Glasgow, helps to support the small but vibrant Georgian population, promoting their unique culture and their history and intertwining their new lives in Scotland with their roots.
Successive Russian regimes have sought to suppress Georgia’s right as a sovereign state to rule its own territory and pursue a pro-western, pro-NATO policy. When, 10 years ago, Georgia’s Government sought to move against ceasefire-breaking separatists, Russia seized its opportunity. It occupied the areas claimed by the separatists and, temporarily, several towns and cities beyond those lines. It recognised, and established military bases in, the separatist republics, which remain rightly unrecognised by the United Kingdom Government and by the overwhelming majority of the international community.
Since then, the separatist republics have become more and more integrated with Russia. Both republics are wholly reliant on Russia for trade and financial support. Their so-called militaries are supplied by Russia and have even been partially merged into the Russian armed forces. The people who still live there largely use Russian passports as a result of illegal and forceful mass passportisation. On 18 March, the Russian presidential elections were held in the occupied territories, and 33 polling stations were illegally opened. The Georgian embassy in the United Kingdom said:
“With such actions the Russian Federation fully disregards the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, and blatantly violates the fundamental norms and principles of international law”.
Let us be under no illusions. Russia is occupying sovereign Georgian territory, just as it is occupying sovereign Ukrainian territory in Crimea and Donbass.
While I am glad that the United Kingdom, like most of the world, has criticised Russia for its actions in Georgia, it has not, as far as I am aware, formally recognised them as an occupation, and it should do so tonight. We should vocally and forcefully oppose what is happening in Georgia as strongly as we oppose Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine. Ten years on from the aggression that intensified this occupation, we must redouble our support for Georgia, its independence and its territorial integrity. We cannot allow this issue to slip down the international agenda and let Putin off the hook. We must demand human rights for all people, especially ethnic Georgians, in the Russian-occupied areas, and that includes access to those areas for international human rights monitors, which is currently being systematically denied. The territories that are being occupied by Russia are integral parts of Georgia, and they should be returned to Georgia.
Putin’s disrespect for international norms does not stop a certain distance from Russia’s borders. The Salisbury attack, and all his attempts to interfere in the west, come from the same mindset as the occupation of Georgia, and we ignore that at our peril. If we are to stand up to Putin, stand up for peace, freedom and international norms, and stand up for ourselves and the security of our nation, we must also stand up for Georgia and for all victims of Russian expansionism.
I am grateful to be called in such an important debate, and I want to start by putting on record my abhorrence at the attempted murderous acts committed on the streets of Salisbury. All who reside in or visit the UK must have the confidence that they can live their life in peace without fear within our borders. We hope that, as Mr Skripal and his daughter fight for their lives, there is a real breakthrough in their recovery this evening and in that of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey as he now recovers at home. We must praise our outstanding NHS for its work at this time and its staff for the risks they put themselves through in treating the sick and, of course, the police as they seek to bring the perpetrators to justice.
We should never see such crimes on our soil again, and we must ensure that all who are working to counter such actions, particularly GCHQ, are given the resources to enable us to remain a safe haven. However, it is right that all questions are asked at this time, not least about Russia, and we, as the official Opposition, will ask all questions; that is our role and our duty. I commend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on his strong speech today clearly stating and calling out what needs to be done, and I was ashamed at the political interference from the Conservative Benches on such a serious matter.
We recognise and regret that we live in volatile times, and therefore we must address the real threats that face us, whether from state actors or lone actors. We must ensure that we have the right intelligence and solutions, and as the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy continues with its Government’s national security strategy review, it must ensure that we address cyber, and nerve, chemical and biological agents as they are ranged against us.
In spite of Brexit, we must work closer than ever with our European friends and neighbours to defeat the causes of risk and protect our borders. Now is the time not to disrupt or dilute our collaboration, but to strengthen it, for when we build bridges, when we maintain dialogue and when we engage in strategic diplomacy, we have the best chance of protecting ourselves and advancing the cause of peace. The Prime Minister must ensure that our future capability is not diluted as she negotiates our way forward.
We have seen over the last few days serious mistakes being made, not least by the Foreign Secretary; hurling insults achieves nothing, but causes tensions to escalate. It is right that we are critical of all violations of human rights and call for justice to be done through the correct channels, but we cannot sustain a Foreign Secretary who is loose with his language time and again and escalates risk by his actions. With foreign policy, the question lacking on all sides is how each action taken is contributing to the de-escalation of tensions and risks. It is dangerous to create a soundbite that lasts a fleeting moment, when the long-term consequences are not considered and when the objective of peace is not the prime focus. It takes time to build a bridge, but an instant to pull it down. Political intervention must be about human rights and the longer term objectives, and the smart politics must be about global co-operation for peace; and when one party falls short, legal mechanisms must be utilised to address that.
I ask the Government what they believe has been achieved over the last two weeks, with the closure of the British Council and the expulsion of the 23 Russian diplomatic staff and whether further action will follow in the days to come. It is vital that diplomatic channels are maintained to bring about a de-escalation of tensions, to ensure that there is dialogue about how we advance human rights and how we address other global situations with Russia, not least at this time its involvement in the war across Syria. And of course the big question of where the money is flowing to must also be addressed, and our call for the Magnitsky amendment must be implemented.
Finally, it is vital that the UK highlights the urgent need for reforming the United Nations, to ensure that it is seen as the first port of call when abhorrent actions occur or diplomacy fails and that it is effective and responsive. I therefore further ask the Government to ensure that every action taken de-escalates tension and enables justice to be served through the correct channels, for the sake of our long-term security.
I spent last weekend with a group of British and German MPs discussing, among other things, Russia and global security. We face from Russia a new and growing threat, teetering on the edge of outright hostility, and it is not in our interests to have unstable or rogue states on the borders of Europe. As well as an angry Russia, we have an unpredictable North Korea and a changing face in China. We cannot address all these threats to our national security by acting alone. Our allies are important, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on her immense leadership in gathering the world together to take collective action and on securing such detailed support from all our EU friends last week.
I want to talk about four issues: hybrid warfare, cyber, energy and space. I shall start with hybrid warfare. Time and again in recent years, friends from many different countries have told me their experiences of how Russian sources have been linked to false news stories, negative propaganda or funding support for extremist political groups. There are many stories, but they all have a common thread. Their action is to sow seeds of disillusion to manipulate the psyche of the voter, leading to distrust of traditional politicians and thus destabilising legitimate democracies. When looked at one by one, the incidents are often dismissed, but when we consider them together, we realise how significant their impact might have been and how deliberate the strategy appears to be. We in the UK should not try to deal with such incidents in isolation. We must counter them with collective actions. I therefore congratulate the Government on ensuring that, in the announcements last Friday, the EU27 states made the decision to bolster their capacity to address hybrid threats.
The EU27 also said that they would look at cyber. After the last general election, I took over the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cyber-security. The Government are to be congratulated on prioritising this issue, on establishing the National Cyber Security Centre and on investing nearly £2 billion in capacity. We are in a digital revolution. The WannaCry cyber-attack, using ransomware with source code from North Korea, stopped our NHS in many places, and it should have been a wake-up call. Again, we need to work internationally, because the digital world is a borderless world and international co-ordination is needed. As members of the EU, we have been part of the ENISA network, which was actually set up by a Brit. It brings together stakeholders to look at risks, to examine resilience, to make strategic plans for key infrastructure and to develop standards. Britain plays a key role in the network, and other countries need us. It is in the interests of the EU and the UK to find a way to co-operate on cyber-security after we leave.
On energy security, many European countries, including Germany, are highly dependent on Russian gas. In the recent cold snap, we in Britain also needed to rely on gas imported from the continent. Recent stress tests have shown that if all countries were to co-operate, consumers would remain connected even in the event of a six-month disruption to Russian gas imports. However, that involves working together. It is important for our own energy security that we stay well connected, both physically and politically. Across Europe, there is a gas connect co-ordination group known as the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas—ENTSOG. It simulates disruptions, identifies risks to supply and agrees preventive measures. My latest discussions with energy suppliers suggest that we risk being cut out of that network, but that is not in Europe’s interests and it should stop threatening us with that.
Finally, on space, this morning’s Financial Times carried a story saying that the EU is considering cutting the UK out of Galileo, which is Europe’s answer to GPS. It is a €10 billion system of satellites that will provide accurate positioning and timing data. That is key for civilian safety and national security. Britain paid for those satellites, and we help to develop them and deliver them. Europe should not threaten us with cutting us out of that programme. If Europe is serious in wanting EU-UK co-operation on foreign policy and on security and defence policy, it should look at the detail and work with us on cyber, energy and space.
The first priority for this country has to be the safety and security of its people. When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, the backdrop was one of the cold war, with the threat and fear of nuclear weapons. In today’s climate, the threats range from cyber-attacks and chemical weapons to armed warfare and nuclear weapons. Parliament’s Joint Committee on the Government’s national security strategy is currently looking at the national security capability review. It is clear, as we have heard from the Prime Minister, that international co-operation on security matters is key to an effective response to aggressive action by another nation, which is why we need to ensure that we have that support from EU partners after Brexit.
Globalisation and reliance on international trade were supposed to have made the world safer by ensuring that one nation does not attack another due to the impact on trade between the two. Incidentally, that was the whole purpose behind establishing what later became the European Union. The attack in Salisbury was despicable and a reckless act of violence, causing serious harm to Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. My thoughts and wishes are with them and their friends and family.
While some Government Members have unwisely chosen to use high-octane rhetoric to attack Russia following the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, we should note that there are significant UK business interests in Russia. According to the Office for National Statistics’ “UK Balance of Payments, The Pink Book: 2017”, the UK exported £5.339 billion-worth of goods and services to Russia in 2016, including those of top law firms and numerous multinationals, such as BP, Shell, BAT and Unilever. There are also a number of British-based funds with significant investments in Russian assets. Many of the UK’s allies also have close business interests with Russia. For example, trade between Russia and Germany continues apace and, despite EU sanctions regarding Crimea, Germany sold €19.7 billion-worth of goods to Russia last year alone. Germany also relies on Russia for 40% of its gas. US President Donald Trump has had well-documented links to various property investment possibilities since the mid-1990s, and when his former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was chief executive of ExxonMobil, he was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by President Putin in 2013. With that in mind, it is clear that any international response to Russia will be limited to strong words and diplomatic measures, such as the expulsion of Russian diplomats. What is missing is a financial response.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, we have heard little from the Government about the introduction of a Magnitsky clause amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to tackle human rights abusers, and I hope that the Government will adopt such an amendment on Report. Closing off access to dirty money is another area about which we have heard little from the Government. When I spoke at the Second Reading of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill last month, I talked about the need for greater transparency and for beneficial ownership registers to be introduced for offshore companies operating in British overseas territories. Why are the Government dragging their feet?
There are several other questions that we need to ask. How much money that has been plundered from the Russian people has been used to buy property in the UK? Do the Government plan to use their powers to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs until they explain the source of their London property wealth? How have Russian oligarchs been allowed to roam freely and acquire status and respectability in the UK? Are the Government aware of the allegations in the current edition of Private Eye that eight Moscow parliamentarians and officials own substantial property in London? Unless measures are taken to target corrupt finances, the Government will be turning a blind eye to certain areas and restricting any meaningful and effective action against those responsible for the Salisbury attack.
I am exceedingly grateful for this opportunity to speak. This is a timely debate, and I am much saddened that we are having to address this serious issue. My contribution will be short, as I fully support the steps that the Government are taking to protect our national security, especially after the terrible events we have recently witnessed in Salisbury.
You may be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have worked closely with our military personnel since my election, and I am pleased to stand here once again to thank them for the exceptional job that they do to maintain our national security. However, my time working with the armed forces parliamentary scheme has also shown me that the threats we face as a country are ever changing, and I firmly believe that it is imperative to continue to invest in defence to counter those threats. It will therefore come as no surprise to colleagues that I welcome the Government’s commitment to increase the defence budget every year and to ensure that the NATO pledge of spending 2% of our national income on defence will be met for the rest of this decade. If Ministers are listening to this debate, there should also be a substantial increase in spending.
It is also right that the Government will spend £178 billion on new equipment for the military in the coming decade. However, we must not ignore the increasing threat to our cyber-security. As a member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I have seen worrying evidence of attempted influencing of our elections and referendums through the spreading of fake news. I believe that in future we will come under further and more devastating attacks in that arena. That should not be underestimated.
Although it is clear to me that the Government will ensure that threats to this country are met with sufficient force, I continue to be concerned by the threat posed by Russia, which, according to our national security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, has become troublesome more quickly than anticipated. Russia continues to rearm itself, even during a period of economic hardship. Moreover, its military forces continue to probe at our boundaries, at a cost to its state and ours. Those are not the actions of a rational state with a stable leadership, and neither was the reckless and unprovoked attack in Salisbury earlier this month. Given the continued provocations, I agree with the Government that we must send the strongest possible message to the Russian leadership.
Of course, as the Prime Minister said earlier, we have no disagreement with the people of Russia, who have been responsible for so many great achievements throughout their history. However, I believe we now have an unfortunate and profound disagreement with their leaders, due partly to the extraordinary reaction to the almost universal condemnation they received. One of their television presenters said:
“The profession of a traitor is one of the most dangerous in this world… traitors or those who simply hate their country in their free time: don’t choose Britain as a place to live.”
“Something is wrong there. Maybe it’s the climate, but in recent years, there have been too many strange incidents with grave outcomes there.”
Those words are chilling indeed. I would call that playground bullying if it were not so sinister and serious.
I say all that with some regret, because, like many people throughout the country, I viewed post-Soviet Russia with hope. I grew up with bombs pointed at me; I got used to that when I was a young man in the ’50s and ’60s. I was all too aware of the destructive forces pointed at us. That is why I am so concerned that the Russian state continues to act in an unstable manner. I do not want another generation to grow up in the shadow of those weapons, due to the reckless actions of a state such as Russia which makes thinly veiled threats and acts more like a bully boy in the playground than a responsible member of the international community.
In the face of such hostility, it is right to deploy a range of tools from the full breadth of our national security apparatus to counter the threats. I am pleased that our allies clearly support that course of action, and I am grateful that that will be maintained in the future. Even after Brexit, the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security, and the Government want to ensure that Europe remains strong, prosperous and capable of defending itself.
Russia, acting as a reckless bully, with no qualms about making threats against people in this country, is clearly an obstacle to a peaceful and prosperous Europe, of which we want to be part. I fully support the steps that the Government have taken to hold Russia to account. Let us not forget Litvinenko, Georgi Markov and countless others.
The winding-up speeches should begin at 9.40. I call Alberto Costa.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will be very brief. I want to put on record my complete support for the Prime Minister’s robust and measured statement today about our national security and Russia.
I think all hon. Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, would agree that it is a tragedy that we are having this debate today. Twenty-eight years ago, when the Soviet Union crumbled and Russia existed once again as a sovereign country in its own right, we all had high hopes that we would forge a good friendship economically, culturally and politically with Russia. In the past 28 years, particularly since Putin became president in 2000, what has happened is nothing short of a tragedy. The west has repeatedly tried, most notably with Hillary Clinton’s pressing the reset button, to realign Russia with western values.
The appalling events in Salisbury a few weeks ago were a brazen, pernicious and dreadful attack on not only the UK’s sovereignty, values and citizens, but on all western allies. This sort of attack, which has happened similarly before, can happen in any of our allies’ countries, and it is right that the Prime Minister sought co-operation from our friends and colleagues across Europe and the wider world. I am pleased with the Prime Minister’s strong leadership, and this is where there is a difference between her and the Leader of the Opposition. Strong leadership requires strong action, and the Prime Minister took that strong action only two weeks ago. It was distressing, to say the least, that the Leader of the Opposition chose not to give his backing to the Prime Minister, when the leaders of the other Opposition parties did the right thing in putting party politics aside and backing the Prime Minister of our country.
As the MP for South Leicestershire, I, like many Members, seek regular assurances as to the safety of my constituents. In that regard, I thank the Prime Minister once again for her statement today, emphasising the steps being taken here in the UK to protect our citizens. It is imperative that Russia is not allowed to act with impunity and break the laws of this country, and indeed offend the rule of law globally. That is why I was very pleased to note the international response to this incident today. As we have heard, the UK has taken the step of expelling 23 Russian diplomats, with some of our European allies and the United States also taking steps. Despite our leaving the European Union, it is clear that our shared security is just as strong as it ever has been, and long may that continue.
I wish to end by making two quick points for the Prime Minister. Earlier today, I met the Greek ambassador and the Greek deputy Foreign Minister here in Parliament, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group on Greece. Greece gave its support to the Prime Minister a few days ago, but Greece has also asked me to remind the House that when our friends and allies give us their support it is also important that, wherever possible, we give them our support on their security needs. I mention briefly the arrest of two Greek soldiers by Turkey and the ongoing problems we have there, and I ask both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to use their platform in European Council and related meetings to encourage and pressure Turkey to act appropriately in such matters.
The second and final point is the one I raised with the Prime Minister last week—
Order. I am sorry but the hon. Gentleman has run out of time. We are immensely grateful and thank him warmly for his contribution. I call Emily Thornberry.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I also thank the Government for holding this general debate in their time? As the Leader of the Opposition made clear earlier, we agree with all the key points made in the Prime Minister’s opening speech, and we agree unequivocally with all the measures the Government have taken in response to the Russian attack. It has been clear throughout this debate that there is clear consensus across this House on the need for a strong, united response to Russian aggression—this is exactly the response we would expect from this House when our country has been attacked and exactly the response Russia needs to hear. So in summarising some of the key contributions made in this debate, I will cite Members from all sides.
Before I do so, let me note that last week marked 75 years since the battle of Rzhev—15 months of horror on the eastern front that left the Russian army with up to a million dead. It is a reminder that despite the grave differences that exist between the two countries today, we must always remember the critical role Russia played in defeating the Nazis in Europe and never forget the horrific losses they suffered to that end. Indeed, as we reflect on the struggle that our people shared 75 years ago, forever symbolised by the heroes of the arctic convoys, it is all the more harrowing that relations between the two countries on issue after issue now stand at such a low ebb. That is most immediately and shocking illustrated by the monstrous and reckless act of violence committed by the Russian state in Salisbury.
As, among others, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said, what happened to Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4 March was a vicious act of violence. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, what characterised the attack was not just the insidious brutality of that assault on the Skripals, but the sheer indifference that the perpetrators showed to the inevitable wider consequences for the public and the emergency services, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.
As the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, we have seen exactly the same indifference in the three weeks since, in the complete failure of the Russian state even to try to offer any plausible alternative explanation as to how the attack could ever have taken place, other than the one that is so glaringly obvious and is now so clearly proved by the intelligence and chemical analysis, which we assume will soon be confirmed by the OPCW. My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell) rightly outlined the importance of the OPCW’s independent verification of that analysis.
The Government’s response is fully justified. As many Members, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) —perhaps the only Member of Parliament to have been, as we learned tonight, chucked out of Russia for standing up for human rights—and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) have made clear, the Government will have our full support for going further in cracking down on money laundering by Putin’s billionaire allies here in London, as called for by the pro-democracy campaigners in Russia.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said in his brilliant and eloquent speech, we stand by the pro-democracy campaigners, LGBT activists, students and journalists who have been so dismayed by the re-election of President Putin. It is truly baffling that any world leader—whether the President of the European Commission or the President of the United States—could have seen fit to congratulate Putin on that victory. As my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party has said, we hope that the Foreign Secretary will criticise them equally for doing so, and by the same token make it clear that he will not congratulate President Sisi of Egypt in the coming days.
Despite the lapses of judgment from Brussels and Washington, we all applaud the co-ordinated action that they and others have taken in response, in terms of today’s diplomatic expulsions which, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said, will have resonated loudly in Moscow. We hope to see further resonant, multilateral actions in support of the UK in the months to come.
On the wider threat posed by Russia to British national security and democracy, we heard powerful contributions on the dangers of disinformation and cyber-warfare from the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), and on the risks of electoral interference from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who, as he reminded us, has for too long been a lone voice on many of these issues. He is a lone voice no longer.
It is genuinely welcome that there is now such a strong consensus in all parts of the House on the need to deal with these new and real threats. As the Leader of the Opposition asked earlier, will the Foreign Secretary reassure us that preventive measures and contingency plans are in place across our critical national infrastructure, and that simulation exercises have been conducted to test the readiness of each key sector and identify any required improvements?
Beyond the threat here at home, we have heard many powerful contributions on the wider Russian threat to the security of our allies and the wider world. In that context, it is so important that the House has sent such a strong message today—most vividly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling)—about our commitment to article 5 of the NATO treaty. In addition to our military commitments, it is vital that we stress to our European counterparts our commitment to continue to work with them to maximise the power of our collective sanctions against any future Russian aggression, and to assure them that that will not be diminished by Brexit.
On the wider geopolitical threat posed by Russia, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke of their anger at President Putin’s bellicose, boastful presentation on Russia’s nuclear capabilities three days before the attack on Salisbury. It was almost as though Putin had seen Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un trading barbs about the size of their nuclear buttons and, rather than dismissing them as overgrown toddlers, had decided to join them in the ball pit. On that issue, as on climate change, Syria and Iran, it is vital that we recognise the global danger. If Russia retreats increasingly, almost willingly, into the role of rogue state—when it is so essential to resolve all those issues—we need to keep it round the table. Of course, if we have to continue negotiating with Russia, there is not a single person in this House, or any right-thinking person in this country, who would not wish that we were not negotiating with Vladimir Putin.
I must say one single point in Putin’s defence. Here, I find myself in rare agreement with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee—despite his outrageous slur in his speech that socialists in this House do not love their country—that, for unleashing the second world war and for killing 6 million Jewish men, women and children, Adolf Hitler deserves to stand alone in the innermost circle of hell, and comparing his crimes with any other individual alive today, especially a Russian individual, is grossly offensive.
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady has very kindly allowed me to reply to her slight. Does she agree that Nazism did not start with the camps and the horror of war, but that it started with the images of hatred that built up over the years and poisoned the minds of people—those images that have been approved by her leader, whom she has so obviously backed? Is that not the hatred that she claims to stand against. Is that not the action that socialism fought?
The hon. Gentleman is right about how racism and hatred develop, which is why it is always important to be completely clear in one’s condemnations. Any time a mistake is made, an apology and a withdrawal must be made, and that, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand if he looks into this properly, is exactly what the leader of my party has done.
I was talking about the grossly offensive, so I will move on. It takes me back, finally, to my opening remarks about the end of the battle of Rzhev and to remember a time when we stood as allies with the Russian people. It is sadly true that, both literally and figuratively, we are 75 years away from that today.
As we speak with one voice today in supporting robust action against the Russian state for its attack on Salisbury, we must continue to send a message to the Russian people, as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) said so well in his contribution, that we long for a day when we can stand as friends and allies again.
This has been an extraordinary day when, across the world, Britain’s allies have proved that if it was the Kremlin’s goal to intimidate us, to divide us from our friends, to make an example of Britain and to deter other countries from matching our robustness, its strategy could not have boomeranged in a more spectacular fashion. Tonight, there will be amazement in the Kremlin at the sheer weight of international opinion that is represented by those countries that are willing to stand with us and take the risk of expelling their own diplomats in response to the assassination attempt against Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and the reckless endangerment of members of the British public.
There are plenty of countries that have joined us in issuing powerful statements, and plenty are taking action in other ways. I will read out the list of countries that have today decided to expel diplomats whose presence, they have reason to believe, is no longer conducive to the public good: Albania, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the United States and Macedonia—22 countries in all, and more than 100 diplomats expelled altogether.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that some Opposition Members—notably the hon. Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle)—did not recognise the fact that it is this Government who have brought together that amazing list of 22 countries in condemnation of Russia’s appalling act of violence on these shores?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I should stress that those countries that have chosen to expel Russian diplomats have consciously placed themselves at risk of the Kremlin’s retaliation. I know that I speak for not just my hon. Friend but every Member of the House when I offer my profound thanks to those countries for what they have done today. It is worth our asking why the global reaction to the outrage in Salisbury has been so much more pronounced than that which we saw in 2006 with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The reason, of course, may be that those countries have feelings of affection and respect for, and a desire to support, the United Kingdom. That is true—or, at least, that is possible. But it is not primarily about us. Today the world has shown that it agrees with the analysis of the United Kingdom regarding the threat posed by the Kremlin.
I am one of those who has congratulated the Government on their achievements with this coalition, but does the Secretary of State share my deep regret at the explicit refusal by the Austrian Government, whose leading party has a direct relationship with Vladimir Putin’s party in Russia, to expel any diplomats. That is extremely disappointing. Next time the Secretary of State is speaking to his Austrian counterpart, will he make Britain’s displeasure extremely clear?
I respectfully say that the right hon. Gentleman’s criticisms might be directed elsewhere.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who has shown with devastating effect in the course of this debate what an astonishing thing it is that 22 other countries have gone further in their condemnation of Russian actions than the Leader of the Opposition. That is a sad state of affairs. As speaker after speaker has said—I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) —what happened in Salisbury was part of a pattern of reckless behaviour by the Kremlin. Some have called it a new cold war. Some have drawn attention to the annexation of Crimea and the pattern of cyber-attacks against Ukraine. My hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) spoke well and movingly about the suffering of the people of Georgia. We have seen the hacking of the German Bundestag, interference in foreign elections and attempts to conceal the use of poison gas by Syria’s tyrant. I note that Ukraine—the country that is suffering directly at the hands of the Kremlin—has expelled 13 Russian officials today.
I give way with pleasure to the hon. Gentleman.
The list of allies that have expelled diplomats is indeed impressive. Has the Secretary of State seen that, during the course of this debate, Iceland has announced a similar diplomatic boycott of the World cup to that of the United Kingdom? Does he welcome that, and does he hope that more of our allies in NATO and the EU will follow suit?
I am aware of the Iceland’s action. If we think about this action in the round, there has never been a collective diplomatic expulsion or action like it across the world. I therefore hope that this episode will mark a turning point. We do not want this to be a bilateral confrontation between Britain and Russia, as many hon. Members have said.
Like many on both sides of the House, I have been very careful to make the distinction between our quarrel with the Russian state and our position with the Russian people. I echo the heartfelt sympathy voiced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the horrific fire in the shopping centre in Kemerovo in Siberia, which claimed the lives of scores of people, including children. It is vital to state that our differences have never been with the Russian people, whose artistic, cultural, literary and musical achievements are matchless. Our quarrel, as I say, is with the Kremlin, whose approach is to conjure up the spectre—the turnip ghost, if you like—of foreign enemies to cement domestic support. The idea that Russia or the Russian people are ringed by enemies is totally implausible and untrue. Far from being surrounded by foes, the Russian people are surrounded by friends and admirers such as ourselves who want nothing more than to live in peace with them on the basis of the very international rules that, tragically, their leaders have made it their project to subvert or overthrow.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) said, the Kremlin has tried to respond to its actions in Salisbury with the usual tactic of concealing the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation. The Russian state media have pumped out no fewer than 21 separate theories so far, including some of almost sublime absurdity. They have claimed variously that Britain launched a nerve agent attack on its own soil in order to sabotage the World cup, that America did it to destabilise the world and, most sickeningly and cynically of all, that Sergei Skripal attempted suicide and apparently tried to take the life of his own daughter with him.
Conservative Members will welcome the Opposition’s somewhat tardy acceptance of Russian culpability for the crimes in Salisbury. What, in the Foreign Secretary’s judgment, has brought about that change of heart?
At this stage of the debate, all of us on both sides of the House will welcome as much unanimity and accord on this matter as we can find. We do not seek to make windows into men’s souls and to try to establish exactly how or why the Opposition decided to change their mind, but we welcome it. I listened very carefully not only to what the Leader of the Opposition had to say, but also to the explanation from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). I welcome what the Leader of the Opposition said.
The most important thing in all this process is for us to be able to establish a unity of purpose not only in this country, but across all our alliances in NATO and in the European Union—and in the Commonwealth. I noticed that only one Commonwealth country, I think, was mentioned in the Foreign Secretary’s list, and I wonder whether he hopes that more will be signing up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Suffice it to say that I am very impressed with the level of support that the UK has got and is getting around the world.
With all these diplomats expelled, we will have to keep a much closer eye on Russia than ever before. Will my right hon. Friend therefore spend £25 million a year to save the BBC Monitoring Service?
We will be doing more to tackle disinformation in all sorts of ways, including by making sure that we monitor the output of the Russians properly. We will be hardening our defences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) rightly recommended. We will be going after the money, as the hon. Member for Rhondda, the right hon. Member for Exeter and many others recommended. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has said, we are unconditionally committed to the defence of our Baltic friends and, yes, we will continue to spend more than any other major European country on defence. Tomorrow all that work goes on, but tonight we mark what I hope will be a watershed moment and a turning point when after all the lies, all the clouds of deceit and all the deployment of Russia’s wearying and sarcastic intercontinental ballistic whoppers—after all the outrage and the provocation that we have had from it—the countries of the world have come together, in numbers far greater than Putin can possibly have imagined, to say that enough is enough.
We want to be friends with Russia and we want to be friends with the Russian people, but it is up to the Russian Government to change, and to change now. I am proud that it is the British Government who have been in the lead, and I thank Members on both sides of the House, including those on the Opposition Front Bench, for the clarity and moral certainty with which they have spoken today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered national security and Russia.