With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the investigation into the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and the subsequent poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley earlier this year. This was a sickening and despicable act in which a devastatingly toxic nerve agent, known as Novichok, was used to attack our country. It left four people fighting for their lives and one innocent woman dead. I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the family of Dawn Sturgess in particular, following their tragic loss.
In March, I set out for the House why the Government concluded that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter. I also said that, while we all share a sense of impatience to bring those responsible to justice, as a nation that believes in the rule of law, we would give the police the space and time to carry out their investigation properly. Since then, about 250 detectives have trawled through more than 11,000 hours of CCTV and taken more than 1,400 statements. Working around the clock, they have carried out painstaking and methodical work to ascertain exactly which individuals were responsible and the methods they used to carry out this attack.
This forensic investigation has now produced sufficient evidence for the independent Director of Public Prosecutions to bring charges against two Russian nationals for the conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal; the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey; the use and possession of Novichok; and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey. This morning, the police set out how the two Russian nationals travelled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, names the police believe to be aliases. They arrived at Gatwick airport at 3 pm on Friday 2 March, having flown from Moscow on flight SU2588. They travelled by train to London Victoria, then on to Waterloo before going to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London. They stayed there on both Friday and Saturday evenings, and traces of Novichok were found in their hotel room. On Saturday 3 March, they visited Salisbury, arriving at approximately 2.25 pm and leaving less than two hours later, at 4.10 pm. The police are confident this was for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area. On Sunday 4 March, they made the same journey, travelling by underground from Bow to Waterloo station at approximately 8.05 am, before continuing by train to Salisbury.
The police have today released CCTV footage of the two men which clearly places them in the immediate vicinity of the Skripals’ house at 11.58 am, which the police say was moments before the attack. They left Salisbury and returned to Waterloo, arriving at approximately 4.45 pm and boarded the underground at approximately 6.30 pm to Heathrow, from where they returned to Moscow on flight SU2585, departing at 10.30 pm.
This hard evidence has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude it has a sufficient basis on which to bring charges against these two men for the attack in Salisbury. The same two men are now also the prime suspects in the case of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, too. There is no other line of inquiry beyond this. The police have today formally linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury such that it now forms one investigation. There are good reasons for doing so.
Our own analysis, together with yesterday’s report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has confirmed that the exact same chemical nerve agent was used in both cases. There is no evidence to suggest that Dawn and Charlie may have been deliberately targeted, but rather they were victims of the reckless disposal of this agent. The police have today released further details of the small glass counterfeit perfume bottle and box discovered in Charlie Rowley’s house which was found to contain this nerve agent. The manner in which the bottle was modified leaves no doubt it was a cover for smuggling the weapon into the country and for the delivery method for the attack against the Skripals’ front door. The police investigation into the poisoning of Dawn and Charlie is ongoing, and the police are today appealing for further information. But were these two suspects within our jurisdiction there would be a clear basis in law for their arrest for murder.
We repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March, and they have replied with obfuscation and lies. This has included trying to pass the blame for the attack on to terrorists, on to our international partners, and even on to the future mother-in-law of Yulia Skripal. They even claimed that I, myself, invented Novichok. Their attempts to hide the truth by pushing out a deluge of disinformation simply reinforces their culpability. As we made clear in March, only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to carry out the attack.
Novichok nerve agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s under a programme codenamed Foliant. Within the past decade Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of these agents, long after it signed the chemical weapons convention. During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering nerve agents including by application to door handles. We were right to say in March that the Russian state was responsible. Now we have identified the individuals involved, we can go even further.
Just as the police investigation has enabled the CPS to bring charges against the two suspects, so the security and intelligence agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organisation behind this attack. Based on this work, I can today tell the House that, based on a body of intelligence, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU. The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.
The House will appreciate that I cannot go into details about the work of our security and intelligence agencies, but we will be briefing Opposition leaders and others on Privy Council terms, and also giving further detail to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Let me turn to our response to this appalling attack and the further knowledge we now have about those responsible. First, with respect to the two individuals, as the Crown Prosecution Service and police announced earlier today, we have obtained a European arrest warrant and will shortly issue an Interpol red notice. Of course, Russia has repeatedly refused to allow its nationals to stand trial overseas, citing a bar on extradition in its constitution. So, as we found following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, any formal extradition request in this case would be futile. But should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to detain them, to extradite them and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom.
This chemical weapons attack on our soil was part of a wider pattern of Russian behaviour that persistently seeks to undermine our security and that of our allies around the world. The Russian Government have fomented conflict in the Donbas, illegally annexed Crimea, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and election interference. They were behind a violent attempted coup in Montenegro, and a Russian-made missile, launched from territory held by Russian-backed separatists, brought down MH17.
We must step up our collective effort to protect ourselves in response to this threat and that is exactly what we have done since the attack in March, both domestically and collectively with our allies. We have introduced a new power to detain people at the UK border to determine whether they are engaged in hostile state activity. We have introduced the Magnitsky amendment to the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act 2018 in response to the violation of human rights. And we have radically stepped up our activity against illicit finance entering our country. We also expelled 23 Russian diplomats who had been identified as undeclared Russian intelligence officers, fundamentally degrading Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come. In collective solidarity, and in recognition of the shared threat posed to our allies, 28 other countries as well as NATO joined us in expelling over 150 Russian intelligence officers: the largest collective expulsion ever.
Since then, the EU has agreed a comprehensive package to tackle hybrid threats; the G7 has agreed a rapid response mechanism to share intelligence on hostile state activity; NATO has substantially strengthened its collective deterrence, including through a new cyber operations centre; and the US has announced additional sanctions against Russia for the Salisbury attack. Our allies acted in good faith, and the painstaking work of our police and intelligence agencies over the last six months further reinforces that they were right to do so.
Together, we will continue to show that those who attempt to undermine the international rules-based system cannot act with impunity. We will continue to press for all of the measures agreed so far to be fully implemented, including the creation of a new EU chemical weapons sanctions regime, but we will not stop there. We will also push for new EU sanctions regimes against those responsible for cyber-attacks and gross human rights violations, and for new listings under the existing regime against Russia. We will work with our partners to empower the OPCW to attribute chemical weapons attacks to other states beyond Syria.
Most significantly, what we have learnt from today’s announcement is the specific nature of the threat from the Russian GRU. We know that the GRU has played a key part in malign Russian activity in recent years. Today, we have exposed its role behind the despicable chemical weapons attack on the streets of Salisbury. The actions of the GRU are a threat to all our allies and to all our citizens. On the basis of what we have learnt in the Salisbury investigation and what we know about this organisation more broadly, we must now step up our collective efforts, specifically against the GRU. We are increasing our understanding of what the GRU is doing in our countries, shining a light on its activities, and exposing its methods and sharing them with our allies, just as we have done with Salisbury. While the House will appreciate that I cannot go into details, together with our allies we will deploy the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus to counter the threat posed by the GRU.
I have said before, and I say again now, that the UK has no quarrel with the Russian people. We continue to hold out hope that we will one day once again enjoy a strong partnership with the Government of this great nation. As a fellow permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we will continue to engage Russia on topics of international peace and security, but we will also use those channels of communication to make it clear that there can be no place in any civilised international order for the kind of barbaric activity we saw in Salisbury in March.
I pay tribute to the fortitude of the people of Salisbury, Amesbury and the surrounding areas, who have faced such disruption to their daily lives over the past six months, and I again thank the emergency services and the national health service for their outstanding efforts in responding to these incidents. I also thank all those involved in the police and intelligence community for their tireless and painstaking work, which has led to today’s announcement.
In March, Russia sought to sow doubt and uncertainty about the evidence we presented to this House, and some were minded to believe it. Today’s announcement shows that we were right. We were right to act against the Russian state in the way we did, and we are right now to step up our efforts against the GRU. We will not tolerate such barbaric attacks against our country. Together with our allies, this Government will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep our people safe. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and for the security briefings that we have received.
Our thoughts today are with the family of Dawn Sturgess and with Charlie Rowley, who is still recovering from his ordeal. We are obviously very sad at the death of Dawn and we send condolences to her partner and her family. We also send our best wishes to Sergei and Yulia Skripal for a full recovery.
The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is an outrage and beyond reckless. Six months after the attack, Salisbury and its people are still suffering the after-effects, as I found when I visited the city earlier this summer. An eerie calm hung over the city on that summer’s evening. A large part of it is cordoned off for security purposes, so that the police can continue their investigations, creating a very strange and eerie atmosphere. We should show some sympathy for the people of Salisbury, given what they have gone through. I know that the Prime Minister did that in her statement.
I commend the police for their superhuman efforts in forensically trawling through hours and hours of information in helping to identify the suspects. Given today’s announcement on the decision to charge two Russian citizens with responsibility for this appalling attack, what steps is the Prime Minister taking to secure co-operation from the Russian Government in bringing them to trial? [Interruption.] This is a serious matter, Mr Speaker, and I think they should be brought to trial.
The OPCW’s finding that there is evidence that Novichok was used in Salisbury is a stark reminder that the international community must strengthen its resolve to take effective action against the possession, spread or use of chemical weapons in any circumstances. No Government anywhere can or should put itself above international law. The Prime Minister previously outlined that the type of nerve agent used was identified as having been manufactured in Russia. The use of this nerve agent is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and, therefore, a breach of international law.
Based on the OPCW’s findings, the Russian Government must give a full account of how this nerve agent came to be used in the UK. Will the Prime Minister continue to pursue a formal request for evidence from the Russian Government under article IX, paragraph 2? It is in the interests of the peace and security of all people and all countries that no Government play fast and loose with the international human rights rules-based system. Will the Prime Minister update the House on what contacts, if any, she has had with the Russian Government more recently to hold them to account?
Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights, even—and perhaps especially—when other countries do not respect those agreements. I will say more on that in a moment, but I want to assure the Prime Minister and the House that we will back any further reasonable and effective actions, whether against Russia as a state or the GRU as an organisation. I encourage the Prime Minister to seek the widest possible European and international consensus for that to maximise its impact.
In 2015, the United Nations set up the OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism, but due to there being no agreement in the UN Security Council, there is no international mechanism that is responsible for attributing chemical weapons attacks to specific perpetrators. Will the Prime Minister outline what efforts the UK has made at the UN Security Council to overcome this impasse, so that the OPCW will be allowed to provide clarity and attribution as to the violators of international chemical weapons law?
While we all hope that our country will never suffer such an attack again, can the Prime Minister outline what lessons have been learned by police and health service staff, and what training they have been given in dealing with a nerve agent attack? That is in no way a criticism of them—indeed, I congratulate them on the way they performed after the attack in Salisbury.
In conclusion, we utterly condemn the appalling attacks. We commend the police and security services for their diligence in investigating this appalling crime, and we will support any reasonable action to bring those responsible to justice and to take further action against Russia for its failure to co-operate with this investigation.
I say first to the right hon. Gentleman that, as I said in my statement, I am sure all Members of the House join both of us in saying to the people of Salisbury, Amesbury and the surrounding area that they have been through terrible disruption in recent months and that we commend the dignity and calm with which they have dealt with it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what we have done to approach the Russian Government on the question of bringing the two individuals to justice.
As I said in my statement, we are issuing an Interpol red notice and have issued a European arrest warrant but, as we saw in the case of Alexander Litvinenko, Russia does not allow its citizens to be extradited to face justice in other countries. I think the phrase I used in my statement was that an extradition request would be “futile”.
What we have done is to repeatedly ask Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March, and it has responded with obfuscation and lies. We want Russia to act as a responsible member of the international community. That means that it must account for the reckless and outrageous actions of the GRU, which is part of the Russian state. This is a decision that would have been taken outside the GRU and at a high level in the Russian state. It must rein in the activities of the GRU and recognise that there can be no place in any civilised international order for the kind of barbaric activity that we saw in Salisbury in March.
The right hon. Gentleman asks me about the OPCW and the United Nations Security Council. We have been working through the OPCW. I am pleased to say that we had an overwhelming vote on the proposal that we and others put forward earlier in the summer on strengthening the OPCW’s ability to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. Further discussions are to take place within the OPCW on that issue, but I hope that the whole international community—and, I would hope, some of those who previously were cautious about accepting what we said in March about responsibility for the attack—will now see the clear responsibility that lies at Russia’s door and act accordingly.
It is right that the United Nations Security Council has not been able to come together to agree an arrangement for the attribution of responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. Why is that? It is because Russia vetoes any attempt to do so. We will work through the OPCW and continue to give the very clear message that states and people cannot use chemical weapons with impunity. We will maintain, and do all that we can to reinforce, the international rules-based order in relation to the use of chemical weapons. I and the Government—and, I am sure, other Members of the House—will be very clear about the culpability of the Russian state for the attack on Salisbury.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. The whole House will have noted what I am afraid was the somewhat weasely language of the Leader of the Opposition in failing to condemn what is now incontrovertible in the eyes of all right-thinking people—the involvement of the Russian state at the highest level in the Salisbury poisonings. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will be asking that these two individuals be produced for justice by Russia? Will she be stepping up our diplomatic activity, our counter-measures and our targeted sanctions so that the whole international community can show its repugnance at what Russia has done in a way I am afraid that Leader of the Opposition signally failed to do today?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. Obviously he was Foreign Secretary when the attack took place and worked, as I did, with the international community on its response.
The CPS does not have a policy of requesting extradition from states whose constitutions bar the possibility of extradition. That is why we have issued the notices available to us—the Interpol red notice and the European arrest warrant. As I said in my statement, if these two individuals step outside Russia, we will take every step possible to ensure that they are detained and brought to face justice here in the United Kingdom.
On the other points that my right hon. Friend makes, we will indeed be stepping up our activity across the broad range of our capabilities and what is available to us across our national security apparatus to ensure that we make every effort to deal with malign state activity and, in particular, as I said in my statement, the activity of the GRU.
Scottish National party Members welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the news that we have now been able to identify the suspects in the Salisbury attack. The attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state on the streets of Salisbury, and we now have evidence that absolutely and unequivocally confirms that. Of course, while our thoughts are with the Skripals in their recovery, we ought today to remember Dawn Sturgess, who sadly died, and Charlie Rowley, who is recovering from the attack he suffered.
The news of the arrest warrants today will send a clear message that all of us here will not tolerate the behaviour from the Russians that took place in Salisbury. While I agree with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the actions open to us and the fact that should these two individuals ever leave Russia they will face the threat of arrest, we ought to put the maximum pressure on Russia, working with our international partners, to turn those individuals over. They must face trial here in the United Kingdom.
There must always be a robust response to the use of terror on our streets. Let me reassure the Prime Minister that the Scottish National party is fully committed to working constructively with the Government to ensure that we do all that we can to protect the public. I am sure that others across the House will join me in extending our gratitude to the members of the security services and the police who worked to ensure that today’s announcements could be made. Their dedication and commitment to rooting out these criminals are critical to securing the safety of citizens and, on behalf of the Scottish National party, I send my sincerest thanks for all their efforts.
The threat from Russia must always be met by a united front from all of us together standing in solidarity against the abuse of power. Only together will we take on the abuse of state power by the Kremlin, and only then can we ensure that we work towards a peaceful future for citizens across the United Kingdom and beyond. It is right that the Prime Minister has made this statement, and I am grateful for that. I look forward to justice being done—it must be done.
Will the Prime Minister also provide us with an update on the Government’s actions to tackle Russia’s abuse of Scottish limited partnerships? SLPs have been used to move more than $80 billion from Russia in just four years, according to our own Government. All action must be taken to stand up to this abuse of power and to show that we are prepared to take Russia on over human rights abuses and money laundering. We will and we must take effective action together.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone of his response and his support for the Government’s work. He mentioned the emergency services. As I said, and he also said, we send our immense thanks to all those in the emergency services, the police, our security and intelligence agencies and the national health service who responded to these incidents, and for the work of the police and the intelligence agencies that has enabled us to identify these two individuals and to issue the Interpol red notice and the European arrest warrant. The armed forces were also present in the clean-up and made their expertise available. We are grateful to them, too.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about Scottish limited partnerships. The Home Office has been looking at this issue with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We intend to introduce legislation to cover a range of abuses, and I am sure that the Security Minister would be happy to speak to him about that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his understanding and acceptance of what I said in my statement about the role of the GRU and the culpability of the Russian state. I also thank him for his clear condemnation of the Russian state. I only wish that such a clear condemnation might be possible from the leaders of all parties in the House.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in her identification of the Russian state. What we are is the victim of state terrorism by a state that is run as a gangster organisation, that threatens us all and has done so repeatedly on the international stage, and that is wholly outside the international rules-based system. I greatly agree with her in commending the work of our police and security services in elucidating the surrounding circumstances around this appalling act.
On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I look forward to further details relating to the background. In the meantime, does my right hon. Friend agree that we will have to look carefully at the ease with which Russian nationals on Russian passports can come in and out of this country? Obviously, as a free country, we wish to facilitate the exchange of people, but that will clearly become a pertinent issue when it becomes so apparent that the system is being abused by the Russian state for the purpose of sending hoods and murderers into our country to kill our citizens and those who are protected by us.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. As I said in my statement, we will indeed ensure that further detail is available for the Intelligence and Security Committee. As I understand it, the individuals came into the United Kingdom under valid passports that were issued by the Russian Government. We have already stepped up our powers by introducing an ability to stop people at ports to consider and investigate whether they are involved in hostile state activity. Of course, we look continually to ensure that we have all the powers necessary to deal with these issues, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will continue to do that.
I give strong support to the Prime Minister for her condemnation of the Russian state, but since our seriousness will be judged by actions rather than words, will she explain how many of the Russian oligarchs whom we know to be cronies of the Russian regime and who have wealth in the UK have had their assets seized under unexplained wealth orders following the powerful example of the United States?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks on this issue and for his reference to the role of the Russian state in what happened in Salisbury. The National Crime Agency has stepped up its activity in relation to illicit finance. A considerable amount of work is being undertaken in relation to that. Of course these are operational matters for the NCA. As he will know, we do not comment on individual cases, but I can assure him that the work that is going on in relation to these matters has been stepped up considerably since what happened in March.
I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the security and police services on their brilliant work in arriving at these conclusions. Two named Russian intelligence officers—nothing could be more conclusive. The nature of the Russian propaganda machine is that it will always try to throw up smoke to confuse us, but does she share my hope that the evidence here will make it clear to all people who doubted what we said before—particularly Opposition Front Benchers—that when the security services lead us in this direction, they know what they are doing?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the role that she played as Home Secretary and for the visits that she made to Salisbury on this issue. She is absolutely right that when I first presented what had happened in Salisbury in March to this House, there were those who questioned my statement about the involvement of the Russian state. Now we have clearly seen what happened. The police have identified two individuals. The independent CPS has laid charges against those two individuals. We have clearly identified a link with the Russian military intelligence agency—the GRU—and it is clear that permission for an act of this sort would have been taken outside the GRU and at a senior level within the Russian state. It is incumbent on all those who were sceptical back in March to see the evidence that has been laid before this House and before the public, and to recognise the involvement of the Russian state and condemn it wholeheartedly.
I thank the Prime Minister for her immensely serious statement and pay tribute to the impressive forensic work of our police and intelligence agencies. They and the Government have support from across the House for their work in the face of this vile chemical attack, this threat from the GRU and the operations of the Russian state, which we must unreservedly condemn not only for this chemical attack, but for the wider propaganda and for the online spread to undermine democracy and truth.
Alexander Litvinenko was murdered 12 years ago and the Prime Minister will know that there were then long delays in setting up an inquiry, and in taking action against the assets of suspects who were identified and those who were linked to them. Has she considered the lessons from the Litvinenko case, and what further measures is she ensuring are put in place now around those suspects and those who may be linked to them so that we learn those lessons, too?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and for her support for the police, the intelligence agencies and the work that the Government have been doing in relation to this particular issue. Yes, we did look at the Alexander Litvinenko case and at the lessons that we as a Government needed to learn from the response to that and the action that was taken, and we acted accordingly. One key difference from the Litvinenko case that we saw in March was the very strong international response to what had happened here in Salisbury. As I have said, we saw the biggest single number of expulsions that has ever taken place of Russian personnel of this sort. Obviously we will continue to look at this matter. We will be looking at what further action can be taken. As I have said, we will be using all the tools in our national security apparatus to do that. It is not possible for me to go into detail on some of those matters, but I am sure that it will be possible to give the right hon. Lady a briefing on Privy Council terms.
May I urge the Prime Minister to make more of the passage of a law in July 2006 by the Russian Federation Parliament specifically enabling and empowering its President to order the assassination of Russia’s enemies abroad? As we know, this happened only weeks before the killing of Litvinenko. If she really wants to send a strong message to the Russian Government, will she have a quiet word with the Chancellor about enabling defence to get the uplift in its budget that it needs if further cuts in our ability to deter Russia are not to be inflicted by the Budget?
My right hon. Friend is of course right to highlight the law that was passed in Russia in 2006 that gives that ability to order assassinations outside the Russian state. He is right to point that out; it is an important fact for people to recognise. That is the background against which Russia is operating and we see that happening today. May I also say to him—I suspect that he will not be surprised by the response that I am giving him in relation to this matter—that, of course, we are looking at the modernising defence programme? As we look at the threat that is posed by Russia and at those that we also see from a whole variety of other sources, what is important is that we not only look at the conventional way in which we have dealt with those threats, but recognise the diverse and varied way in which malign state activity is undertaken today. As I referenced in my statement, we see a lot of propaganda and cyber-activity taking place by the Russian state. We need to make sure that we have all the tools at our disposal, and that will run across a number of parts of Government and not simply the Ministry of Defence.
The first duty of anyone occupying the Prime Minister’s office is to protect the public and to be clear-eyed about the threats that the country faces. I thank her for her statement today and echo the praise that she and other Members have given to the police and intelligence services for the tremendous work that has been done to enable her to come to the conclusions that she has shared with the House today. Given her responsibilities, may I ask her why she thinks that the Russian state authorised such a barbaric operation—this state-sanctioned attempted murder—on the streets of the UK?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his opening comments and his praise for the police and intelligence agencies. As I have said, there were 250 detectives trawling through 11,000 hours of CCTV and over 1,400 statements; this was a very significant investigation, and there has also of course been the work of the intelligence agencies, which I referred to in my statement as well.
It is not for me to ascribe the motivation of the Russian state in relation to this issue. I suspect it wanted to give a message to Russians living elsewhere who had been involved in matters relating to the Russian state; that is the only reason that I can assume lay behind what it wanted to do. But it is up to the Russians to explain what happened in Salisbury. I have said consistently—I did so in March, we have done so since, and I have said it again this afternoon—that the Russian state needs to explain what happened in Salisbury; all we have had are obfuscation and lies.
In the light of my right hon. Friend’s statement, does she agree that for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to change its rules at the behest of the secretary general in order to facilitate the readmission of the delegation of the Russian Federation would make an absolute nonsense of the convention on human rights? Does he also agree that it is incumbent on the Council of Europe and all other international bodies to send a clear message to the Russian Federation that human rights is not an à la carte menu?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very real issue. Of course the Government will be looking to raise it in the international forums where we are able to do so. My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. This information will be provided to the Council of Europe, and I hope it will make it think again about the steps it is proposing. As my hon. Friend says, human rights are not an à la carte menu from which we can pick and choose.
May I too commend the police and security services for all their work on this very serious issue? This morning my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and I were assured that local people do not face a threat and that the local hotel in Bow where the perpetrators stayed has been checked and is safe, but can the Prime Minister assure us that further reassurance will be provided, that lessons will be learned, and that local police who have to work in partnership with security and counter-terrorism officers will be supported in dealing with this new kind of threat that cuts across different boroughs and different parts of the country?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue and it is right that we are able to give that reassurance. On the hotel that the individuals stayed in, the situation is clear: the chief medical officer has also given a statement this morning about issues relating to public health and makes very clear in that statement the low risk that pertains there. Samples were taken from the hotel room as a precautionary measure; when that first happened, at the initial stage when that hotel room was identified, the contamination with Novichok was identified as being below the level to cause concern to public health; further samples were then taken and have come back negative. Following these tests, the experts deemed that the room was safe and posed no risk to the public. I believe the chief medical officer has indicated that anybody who stayed in the room between 4 March and 4 May would, had they been affected, have been affected by now, and there have been no reports of any health effect on anybody during that period. But reference has been made to this, and people may wish to get in touch with the investigatory team to be reassured on the matter.
The hon. Lady also mentioned other elements. The chief medical officer has made it clear that staff who operated, maintained and cleaned the transport systems are safe, and that there is no risk to members of the public who travelled alongside the individuals between 2 March and 4 March or those who used the transport system afterwards.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the 2006 Russian law, which would surely logically assume that the man who allowed this assassination attempt to happen was the head of the Russian state, Vladimir Putin. But the GRU is not a new organisation. Is the Prime Minister aware of its involvement as the lead agency in the Crimean annexation and as a critical agency, but not the only one, in the east Ukrainian war; of GRU General “Orion” who was the senior man at the time of the shooting down of the MH17; and of the very close and short command chain that allegedly exists between the GRU and the Russian presidency?
My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on ensuring that we are all aware of the activities of the Russian state and the threat they pose. We have specifically identified these two individuals in relation to the GRU, but, as I have said and as my hon. Friend acknowledged, the GRU has had involvement elsewhere, and other parts of the Russian state have been involved in malign state activity elsewhere as well. As I said in my statement, it is almost certain that a decision of this sort will have been taken outside the GRU and at a senior level.
The Prime Minister referred in her comprehensive and detailed statement to co-operation with our European Union partners and the EU chemical weapons sanction regime. Can she assure me and the whole country that we will continue to work closely with our EU partners, as the closest possible security and intelligence and sanctions co-operation will be necessary whatever happens in March next year?
I give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. We recognise the importance of working with our European partners on these matters of security. It is why we have set out proposals for an ambitious and comprehensive security partnership in our future relationship, covering co-operation across a range of areas and continued access for the UK to certain instruments that can be helpful in dealing with these matters, such as the European arrest warrant; and, indeed, where we have taken our own powers such that after March next year we will be able to have our own individual sanctions regime, we would want to continue to co-operate with our European partners on those issues, too.
The GRU is Russian military intelligence. Its operatives are recruited almost exclusively from the Russian military; it reports to the Russian general staff, via them to the Defence Ministry, and on a very short leash to the Kremlin. We should therefore understand the enormity of what has happened here: British citizens have been murdered or almost murdered on British soil by two highly trained Russian soldiers. May I suggest that in responding to this heinous attack we should now target the GRU both in our country and again among our allies, and seek specific expulsions of GRU officers from around NATO and our friends around the world in order to disrupt the networks of this vile organisation?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that we now specifically look at the actions of the GRU and take action in relation to the GRU. That is about sharing our experience and understanding of the GRU with our allies, and it is about the threat potentially posed to other countries. It is not just about what happened here, heinous though that crime was, as my right hon. Friend has said; it is about ensuring a level of protection and security for everybody across Europe.
Global Witness has found that 43% of Scottish limited partnerships are controlled by persons with either a correspondence address in or citizenship of a former Soviet state. However, there are still huge issues with compliance, and many SLPs have not even provided a person of significant control. Will the Prime Minister give more detail on future legislation to combat dirty money laundered through SLPs, and say whether resources and priority will be given to enforcing existing laws through Companies House, which remains a huge loophole in all of this?
As I said in response to the question this afternoon from the hon. Lady’s party leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the Home Office and the Business Department have been working on this issue in relation to SLPs; they have been looking at some of these areas of abuse. We have as a general point stepped up our ability to deal with economic crime through the establishment within the National Crime Agency of the national economic crime centre, and we are continuing to build up that ability to deal with economic crime. I am sure the Minister for Security and Economic Crime will be happy to speak to the right hon. Gentleman as leader of the Scottish National party here about the action being taken and the work being done. There is an intention to legislate in this area, but obviously we need to ensure we get this right; SLPs are not the only issue raised in this regard and we need to look at a range of abuses.
My right hon. Friend has set out very powerful evidence that a British citizen died on British soil as a direct result of a Russian assassination, but she will be aware that there have been a number of other deaths in Britain in the past few years of Russian citizens or of people with close connections with Russia. Can she say whether those cases are now being actively re-examined?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. There have been a number of cases—the number of 13 or 14 comes into my head—and they have indeed been reconsidered by the police, who have looked at all the evidence in relation to those matters. I understand that a letter will shortly be going to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee setting out the outcome of that, but I understand that there is no cause for further consideration of those cases.
I do not doubt for a single instant that the bloody trail goes all the way to the Kremlin and to President Putin himself personally. I do not think that anybody acting for the GRU would go it alone. I think that that is what the Prime Minister meant when she said that this was not rogue activity. The cynicism of the Russian state is phenomenal. It is not only that laws are being passed to allow impunity for murderers when they go overseas; it is also the fact that the Russian embassy’s response yesterday was to ask for access to the Skripals—presumably to finish the job. If we cannot bring these people into a court in this country, as seems likely, is it not important to ensure that we have a proper judicial process in this country, such as the judge-led inquiry that was able to come to proper legal conclusions after Litvinenko?
As I said in my statement, this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. The hon. Gentleman raises the possibility of an inquiry to look into this. Obviously, the police investigation into what happened at Amesbury is ongoing. As I said, this is now a single investigation, and there is no further line of inquiry beyond the two individuals who have been named in relation to the attack on the Skripals and on Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was affected by that as well. Obviously, we will want to take steps to ensure that we learn appropriate lessons from this. In relation to bringing the individuals to justice, I repeat that if they do step outside Russia, we will strain every sinew and do everything we can to bring them to justice in this country.
The revolting regime of President Putin that has so impoverished and abused the Russian people has many fellow travellers and useful idiots in the Parliaments of those we assume to be our allies, including the European Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the very professional diplomatic efforts by her Government that took place after the attacks need to be continued with full vigour to ensure that our allies remain onside and understand what a terrible crime has been committed against one of their allies?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would also say that this confirms that those of our allies who stood by us and took action after March were right to do so. There were those who were sceptical, internationally as well as within this Chamber, about the role of the Russian state at the time, but the evidence that has now been produced shows absolutely the culpability of the Russian state. I hope that in the international arena we will now see countries that have exercised a degree of restraint in their approach recognising the role that Russia has played in this and acting accordingly.
Given the extraordinary trail of evidence that the Prime Minister has shared with the House today, and the number of communities affected, is it not all the more important that everyone in all corners of the Chamber should express their total faith and confidence in the police and the security forces? We do not do that simply so that we can pay lip service to them or thank them; expressing that confidence is important so that communities or witnesses with evidence can come forward and feel that it is legitimate to provide that evidence to the security services. May I urge the Prime Minister to ignore the cranks and ideological extremists whose first instinct seems to be to sow mistrust in our security professionals?
I absolutely support what the hon. Gentleman has said. Our security professionals do an amazing job for us on a daily basis. We have seen the painstaking professionalism that they have shown in this particular investigation, which has led us to the position where we can make the statements that the Metropolitan police and I have made today in relation to these two individuals and to what happened in Salisbury. It is incumbent on all of us across the whole House unequivocally to give our support to the security services in the job that they do. We face a range of threats in this country, and the people of this country need the reassurance of knowing that their politicians are giving the necessary support to the security services.
A decision outside the GRU by the Russian state at a senior level—she means President Putin, doesn’t she?
I mean a decision outside the GRU at a senior level in the Russian state.
The public need to see that their elected representatives accept the forensically reached conclusions of the police and the British security services over the lies and propaganda that will be pumped out by our enemies, so it is heartening that the overwhelming majority of speakers in this session have accepted that. The Prime Minister mentioned NATO. Does she agree that an attack by the Russian state on British soil using chemical weapons was sufficient to invoke article 5, had she wished to do so? Does she reserve the right to do that in future, if there is another act of aggression by the Russians?
The interpretation of matters in relation to article 5 obviously rests on matters of law, apart from anything else. The hon. Gentleman’s earlier point was important. It was about the ability of this House to show the public, the emergency services and our security services our support and to reassure them of our determination to get to the bottom of what happened in Salisbury. He is right to say that it has been forensic, painstaking work that has led to the police having the ability to identify these two individuals, and to making it possible for me to be clear that they were members of the GRU and linked to the Russian state. We should be eternally grateful to them for the service that they provide for us. We will continue to talk with NATO about the ways in which we can enhance NATO’s ability to deal with malign state activity of the variety of sorts that we now see today. When NATO was established, it was very much on the basis of what would now be seen as conventional warfare. Looking at the propaganda and the cyber-attacks that we see today—I understand that the propaganda has already started from the Russian state in relation to today’s statements—we need to ensure that NATO has the necessary capability to deal with them.
The character of espionage is changing as the methods by which it is conducted alter, partly as a result of technology. At the Home Office, my right hon. Friend and I worked to ensure that the necessary legislation was in place, but given these events and others, will she look again at whether our excellent security and intelligence services need any further powers in order to do their work to keep us safe?
My right hon. Friend speaks from his experience as a Security Minister, and I am grateful to him for the point he makes. We have already taken steps such as enhancing the power to stop people at ports when there is a suspicion that they might be involved in hostile state activity. Legislation is also going through the House in relation to enhancing our powers in certain areas relating to counter-terrorism. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already said, we will look at the issue of espionage legislation to see whether there is anything further that we need to do.
After the attacks earlier in the year, our friends and partners abroad came together in a fantastic way to bring pressure to bear against Russia in response to what happened on our soil. In the light of today’s conclusions, that action should be seen as the start, not the end, of international pressure, because Vladimir Putin responds only to strength, and internationally co-ordinated strength works best. Where next for that partnership?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we saw an important international coalition come together. Since then, we have seen some further action being taken by individual countries, such as the United States, in relation to sanctions against Russia. We have also seen a coming together at the European Union level in relation to a sanctions regime for chemical weapons use, and we will continue to push that matter. We will also continue to push on sanctions in relation to Russia in several other areas. That activity will be continuing, and we will continue to step up pressure among our international allies. As I said earlier, I hope that the evidence that has been presented today will clearly show why this is so important.
I thank the Prime Minister for the Government support that has been given to Wiltshire in its recovery phase. It continues to be much needed. The apparent ease with which two GRU operatives were able to enter this country will fill people with alarm and suggests continued vulnerability. Accepting the difficulty of detecting agents such as Novichok at our ports and airports, what can be done to reduce the chances not just of individuals but of substances entering the country and permitting a repetition of what we have seen?
I reiterate that these individuals travelled on valid passports that were issued by the Russian Government. We have looked at what is necessary at the ports, which is why we have responded by giving the police the power, as they have had in other circumstances, to stop people and interview them at ports should there be a concern that they may be involved in hostile state activity.
The Prime Minister highlighted the fact that the US has imposed additional sanctions on Russia. However, that has been partly counterbalanced by the fact that, just a few weeks ago, Steven Mnuchin spoke about lifting sanctions on a Russian company with links to Putin’s inner circle, and the reality is that Congress has actually forced President Trump’s hand a lot of the time. We saw in Helsinki that Putin clearly ran rings around President Trump, so what direct discussions has the Prime Minister had with the President to reinforce the importance of keeping sanctions on Russia? What is she going to do to gain support for additional sanctions going forward?
We have been talking to several allies and partners in relation to the information that we now have about what happened in Salisbury. As I have said, we will continue to talk, particularly in the forums where we have already generated activity in relation to a future sanctions regime, such as in the European Union in relation to the crucial chemical weapons sanctions regime. We will continue to press our allies on that.
Given that the Russian state will deny that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov even exist, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether sufficient evidence from our excellent agencies will be shared with others who did not feel able to support the Government in March, so that they can now join the 28 nations who acted in solidarity with us against a state that uses military intelligence officers and nerve agents to murder abroad?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We will obviously share the information to ensure that those to whom he refers are now aware of the further evidence that has been made available. Of course, this is not just about the names, because the police have today released CCTV images of the two individuals.
The Prime Minister’s comprehensive statement highlights that the Russian state effectively put hundreds of British citizens in mortal danger, not least those in our NHS who so expertly treated the victims. Will she therefore outline what measures she is putting in place to enhance the resilience of our chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training, so that personnel across civilian and military services are able to deal with such threats? Will she also review the 2011 decision to disband the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and gives me a further opportunity to commend the excellent work done by the national health service when faced with the attack in Salisbury. Many people would have found it difficult to deal with such a difficult case, so the fact that they did is a huge commendation for the professionalism of our national health service.
A decontamination review took place a couple of years ago. The Home Office will also be looking at a review of protective measures, as the hon. Gentleman would expect.
In joining the Prime Minister and the whole House in warmly congratulating and thanking our armed services, intelligence services and police on all they have done, I hope that she will understand if I pay particular tribute to the Wiltshire constabulary, which has played an extraordinarily important role in this operation, and the NHS staff at Salisbury hospital. She will also forgive me if I ask two rather local questions. First, will she confirm that the costs borne by the Wiltshire constabulary will be given to the Home Office rather than the people of Wiltshire? Secondly, will she reconfirm to my constituents and people across Wiltshire that there is now no risk of any kind whatsoever from any remnants of the Novichok poisoning?
I understand that the Home Office is indeed assisting the Wiltshire constabulary with the costs and that some payments have already been made. My hon. Friend is right to commend the actions of the police officers, ambulance personnel and fire service personnel who were early on the scenes and faced situations in which they did not know exactly what was happening, but they dealt with things professionally and we should commend them for their professionalism.
As for the situation in the surrounding area, the message continues to be that there is a low risk. The police have put out a public appeal today, which includes CCTV footage, so if anybody has any information about having seen the individuals in any particular place, they can bring that information forward. Of course, the police have conducted fingertip searches of all the areas of concern, and, as I say, the risk to the public is low.
I add my congratulations to the police on their excellent detective work. The Opposition were pleased that the Government added Magnitsky provisions to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Section 31 of that Act provides for the appointment of an independent reviewer of counter-terrorism regulations. Has that appointment been made?
I will write to the hon. Lady about that particular question.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out earlier, during the summer the United States increased its sanctions against Russia specifically as a result of this heinous crime. To what extent are we intending to replicate the sanctions that the US has put in place? Are we are intending to get our EU allies to do the same?
Obviously, we have worked closely with our EU allies and others in relation to sanctions on Russia, for which there are various reasons at the moment due to the various aspects of malign state activity. I have referenced the chemical weapons sanctions regime that the EU has agreed in principle, and we will be working with our allies on that. Of course, after 29 March next year, we will have our own sanctions powers in place as an independent state, but we will want to continue to work with allies and others on that.
To clarify a point I made in response to other questions about the new power to stop at the border those concerned with hostile state activity, that matter is contained within the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently before the House. I may have given the impression that the measure had already been passed, but it is currently before the House.
A regime that is intent on committing murder around the world will inevitably make mistakes, and the extraordinary work of the police and security services that the Prime Minister has outlined has only punctured the myth of Putin’s omnipotence. I have two specific questions. First, without having to go into the detail, will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government are pulling out all the stops to provide security to UK assets, such as Mr Skripal, who is a former Russian intelligence agent? Secondly, will she provide an assurance that full co-ordination is also being undertaken with agencies such as Police Scotland?
I am happy to give reassurance on both those points that proper and full co-ordination is taking place with agencies such as Police Scotland. There is a very good working relationship between law enforcement across the United Kingdom, and that continues on this particular matter.
The protection of individuals here in the UK was, obviously, looked at with urgency after what happened in Salisbury. My right hon. Friend the Security Minister has chaired a number of meetings in relation to this matter and receives regular updates on it.
The evidence is compelling: the Russian state was involved. Will my right hon. Friend condemn the Kremlin apologists and the false-flag conspiracy theorists who have argued with those facts? Further, will she make it clear that our response, in whatever form is necessary, will be robust, decisive and unwavering?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend the reassurance that our response will be robust, decisive and unwavering, and it will be ongoing, because this is a matter we need to continue working on. I condemn those who see fit to defend the Russian state where it is clear that it is culpable for this action, this heinous crime committed on UK soil against citizens here in the United Kingdom.
Given the sheer weight of evidence that has been disclosed today regarding the Salisbury attack, can we expect the UK Government, along with their allies, to ensure further sanctions, including deportations of Russian state actors?
As I have indicated, we will be looking at these issues on sanctioning, including some aspects of new sanctions regimes, such as I referred to on the EU chemical weapons use regime. Of course, the deportation of individuals relies on there being the required evidence to enable the Home Secretary to take such a decision.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the very cool way in which she has handled this bellicose threat. Particularly, does she agree that we should remind our constituents, and indeed the Russian people, that this state-sponsored GRU mission was a complete and abject failure, as the Skripals are still alive?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, the Skripals are still alive but, sadly, we have seen the death of Dawn Sturgess. There was an impact not just on the Skripals but on Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and Charlie Rowley as well. Through what I have shown today, I think that we can reassure people across the UK on the excellent professionalism that our security services and our police service have shown in response to this, in bringing us to the point where we are able to identify two individuals.
I thank the Prime Minister for the way in which she has delivered this statement and for the work being done on this issue. I was a member of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill Committee, and this situation clearly shows exactly why we need these powers to be brought into law. Will she therefore confirm that the Government will quickly seek to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading so it can continue its progress?
Yes. We fully recognise the importance of this legislation and of bringing it through. I thank my hon. Friend for his work on that Committee and for his recognition of the significance of this legislation. Of course, the timing of legislation depends on the business managers and on other legislation, but we understand the importance of this Bill and the need to get it on the statute book.
A deadly chemical attack on a British cathedral city is a truly shocking event, yet the residents of Salisbury have shown great strength since the attack. What assurances can the Prime Minister give local residents and visitors to the Salisbury area that they can now carry out their activities safely? What further support can the Government give so that the local environment can recover from the attack?
The Government worked with the local authority and others in the Salisbury and Wiltshire area more generally to ensure that support was in place to help those communities through the disruption and difficulties they had as a result of these incidents. I was very pleased to visit Salisbury shortly after the attack. As I said, the then Home Secretary made two visits to Salisbury, and others have also visited. I want people to go to Salisbury, and I want people to enjoy Salisbury as a city and Wiltshire as a great part of the UK to visit.
I have thanked the police and security services, and I would like to thank the local authority and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) for their work.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. She referred to Russia’s response of extraordinary obfuscation and lies. Will she update the House on the actions she will be taking to counter propaganda and the dissemination of disinformation from Russia?
I hope that my hon. Friend will take the reassurance that we will be acting on this. I cannot go into detail on everything we will be doing, but we will be ensuring that we bring the full panoply of the national security apparatus to deal with the issues we face in terms of this malign state activity.