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Salisbury Attack

Volume 648: debated on Tuesday 30 October 2018

Following the 4 March Salisbury attack, the UK co-ordinated action among 28 countries and NATO that led to 153 Russian diplomats being expelled, which we think is the largest mass expulsion in history.

Because of recent events, Russia is not currently sitting in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. There are those who seek to change the rules governing the Council of Europe to make it easier to readmit Russia. Although we all want to see Russia welcomed back, does the Secretary of State agree that it is not the Council of Europe but Russia that needs to change its ways?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Russia should pay its dues to the Parliamentary Assembly, it should pay interest on its arrears and it must follow the rules.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing agreement among our European allies for EU sanctions against senior Russians in charge of Russia’s spy networks following the Salisbury attack, but what further action can now be taken in respect of cyber-related attacks, given the growing menace of Russia’s targeting of other countries’ computer networks?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we looked at a map of Europe showing all the places where there have been Russian-inspired cyber-attacks, we would see it is a very busy map indeed. We need to create a new international red line that says these cyber-attacks are unacceptable, which is why it is very positive news that, on 15 October, the EU agreed to set up a sanctions regime for cyber-attacks, but that is just the first of a number of steps.

We need to keep up the pressure on Russia. There is no point in just referring to what we have already done. When will the Government bring forward their first list of people caught by the new Magnitsky legislation in this country? Would it not be a good idea for us now to include those who are gangsters, rather than just those who have abused human rights?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As he knows, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 only comes into effect after Brexit, because it depends on us taking trade measures, which is what has to happen. Ahead of that, however, we are talking to the EU about whether it should introduce a sanctions regime for human rights abuses, and that is relevant not just to Russia but to many countries.

Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on any discussions he has had with NATO partners and allies in relation both to the Salisbury attack and to the rise in cyber-attacks?

I am happy to do that for the right hon. Gentleman. NATO Foreign Ministers recognise collectively that we are starting to see international norms being breached in an extremely dangerous way. One of those breaches is on chemical weapons; we should never forget that the Salisbury attack was the first use of chemical weapons on British soil, and it is extremely serious from that point of view. The other is on cyber, with the general undermining of confidence in democracy when people think that hostile state actors might be trying to interfere in our elections. We need to stop both those things.

Will my right hon. Friend have a word with his successor as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask why the NHS—Pharmacy2U, to be precise—is advertising on RT and so is lining the pockets of Putin’s mouthpiece?

I am very happy to have a word with my excellent successor, but of course this affects us in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well. With the unexplained wealth orders and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, we are starting to tighten the net on people from unfriendly regimes who are financing activities that are against our values.

In reaching the sanctions agreement he referred to, I am sure the Secretary of State was grateful for the support of the former eastern bloc countries, which he welcomed to Chevening before the summit. Did he take the opportunity to apologise to them for comparing their experience under Soviet domination to membership of the EU?

We had a very enjoyable time, including when getting a little lost in the maze. Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly: I stand by exactly what I said, which was that a club of free countries that was set up, in part, to stand against the Soviet Union and totalitarianism should not, in way that is inconsistent with its values, seek to punish someone who wishes to leave.

It was deeply impressive how many states stood by the UK in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack, not least those that know fine well what the Moscow regime is capable of. So I am going to give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity: what message does he have for those states that have thrived since independence in the EU but were deeply offended by his crass remarks comparing the EU with the former Soviet Union?

I think those states agree with what I am saying, which is that a club of free nations should not be seeking to punish someone who wishes to leave. They have been among our strongest supporters in the Brexit process.

I will give the Foreign Secretary a second opportunity, but before I do, let me read out some quotes. The Latvian ambassador said:

“Soviets killed…and ruined the lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”

The Lithuanian European Commissioner was born in a gulag—I want the Foreign Secretary to reflect on that—and he said:

“I was born in a Soviet gulag and was imprisoned by KGB”.

He has offered the Foreign Secretary a history lesson. Will he take the Lithuanian Commissioner up on that?

I will happily send him a copy of my speech so that he can see exactly what I said. What he will see is that I said it was very important that the UK and continental Europe work together to stand against precisely those totalitarian regimes.