With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the incident in Salisbury and the steps we are taking to investigate what happened and to respond to this reckless and despicable act.
Last week, my right hon. Friends the Foreign and Home Secretaries set out the details of events as they unfolded on Sunday 4 March. I am sure that the whole House will want to pay tribute again to the bravery and professionalism of our emergency services and armed forces in responding to this incident, as well as the doctors and nurses who are now treating those affected. In particular, our thoughts are with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who remains in a serious but stable condition. In responding to this incident, he exemplified the duty and courage that define our emergency services and in which our whole nation takes the greatest pride.
I want to pay tribute to the fortitude and calmness with which people in Salisbury have responded to these events and to thank all those who have come forward to assist the police with their investigation. The incident has, of course, caused considerable concern across the community. Following the discovery of traces of nerve agent in a Zizzi restaurant and the Mill pub, the chief medical officer issued further precautionary advice, but, as Public Health England has made clear, the risk to public health is low.
I share the impatience of the House and the country at large to bring those responsible to justice and to take the full range of appropriate responses against those who would act against our country in this way. But as a nation that believes in justice and the rule of law, it is essential that we proceed in the right way, led not by speculation but by the evidence. That is why we have given the police the space and time to carry out their investigation properly. Hundreds of officers have been working around the clock, together with experts from our armed forces, to sift and assess all the available evidence, to identify crime scenes and decontamination sites and to follow every possible lead to find those responsible. That investigation continues and we must allow the police to continue with their work.
This morning, I chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in which we considered the information available so far. As is normal, the council was updated on the assessment and intelligence picture, as well as on the state of the investigation. It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.
Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the Government have concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. There are, therefore, only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.
This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Russian ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of the two possibilities it is and to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter. My right hon. Friend has stated to the ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and he has requested the Russian Government’s response by the end of tomorrow.
This action has happened against a backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the second world war that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe. 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, which has included meddling in elections and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others.
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 in Florida. The extra-judicial killing of terrorists and dissidents outside Russia was given legal sanction by the Russian Parliament in 2006, and, of course, Russia used radiological substances in its barbaric assault on Mr Litvinenko. We saw promises to assist the investigation then, but they resulted in denial and obfuscation and the stifling of due process and the rule of law.
Following Mr Litvinenko’s death, we expelled Russian diplomats, suspended security co-operation, broke off bilateral plans on visas, froze the assets of the suspects and put them on international extradition lists, and those measures remain in place. Furthermore, our commitment to collective defence and security through NATO remains as strong as ever in the face of Russian behaviour. Indeed, our armed forces have a leading role in NATO’s enhanced forward presence, with British troops leading a multinational battlegroup in Estonia. We have led the way in securing tough sanctions against the Russian economy, and we have at all stages worked closely with our allies and will continue to do so. We must now stand ready to take much more extensive measures.
On Wednesday, we will consider in detail the response from the Russian state. Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, and I will come back to this House to set out the full range of measures that we will take in response.
This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, but an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement on this deeply alarming attack, which raises very serious questions. The whole House condemns the suspected poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury and, of course, we wish them a return to good health. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey a speedy recovery as well. No member of our police force and nobody on the streets of Britain should ever face such an attack—let alone one with chemical weapons.
I thank the Prime Minister for updating the House. The investigation into the shocking events in Salisbury must reach its conclusions. We need to see both the evidence and a full account from the Russian authorities in the light of the emerging evidence to which the Prime Minister referred. For now, can the Prime Minister clarify what level of threat it was believed that Mr Skripal faced at the time of the attack and what security protection, if any, was deemed necessary for him and his daughter?
This morning, the Conservative Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said that he would be “surprised” if the Prime Minister
“did not point the finger at the Kremlin”.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) also accused the Russian Government of behaving “aggressively” and in “a corrupting way” in this country.
We need continue seeking a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues—both domestic and international—currently dividing our countries, rather than simply cutting off contact and letting the tensions and divisions get worse and, potentially, even more dangerous.
We are all familiar with the way in which huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia and sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics—“meddling in elections”, as the Prime Minister put it. There have been more than £800,000 of donations to the Conservative party from Russian oligarchs and their associates. If that is the evidence before the Government, they could be taking action to introduce new financial sanctions powers even before the investigation into Salisbury is complete. But instead they are currently resisting Labour’s amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill that could introduce the so-called Magnitsky powers. Will the Prime Minister agree today to back those amendments? More specifically—[Interruption.]
Order. There can be strongly held opinions and inflamed passions, but I appeal to colleagues, whose sincerity and integrity I do not doubt, to remember that we hear views. Other colleagues will be heard, but the right hon. Gentleman must be heard now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
More specifically, when it comes to the Salisbury attack, what actions are the local police taking to identify fellow diners at the Zizzi restaurant and the Mill pub in Salisbury on the day in question and to ensure that they come forward and are checked? What extra resources are being provided to the local police force, which quite understandably has never had to deal with such an incident before?
We know that the national health service is under incredible pressures across the country, but what extra resources have been provided to the NHS hospitals in and around Salisbury, and what training has been given to NHS staff and GPs in identifying the symptoms of a nerve agent attack?
The events in Salisbury on 4 March have appalled the country and need thorough investigation. The local community and public services involved need reassurance and the necessary resources. The action that the Government take once the facts are clear needs to be both decisive and proportionate, and focused on reducing conflict and tensions, rather than increasing them.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the magnificent work of our public services responding to this attack: the NHS staff, the police and security services, the armed forces and the analysts at Porton Down. Let us do everything we can to ensure that this never ever happens again.
I am sure that everybody in the whole House sends their best wishes to all those who have suffered as a result of this incident and wish for their recovery. In the case of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, I read a quote that I was not surprised by because I have heard it from so many police officers who have been in dangerous situations before; he said that he was merely doing his job. We are grateful to him and all our police officers and emergency services for doing that. We do not comment on the threats in relation to individual cases, but of course the police and others always look to ensure that we are taking these matters fully into account and taking them very seriously.
In relation to Russia, we have a very simple approach, which is, “Engage but beware.” This shows how right it is that this Government have been cautious in relation to its arrangements with Russia. In my Mansion House speech last November, I set out very clearly the concerns that we have about the activities of Russia. It is a matter that I have discussed with fellow leaders at the European Union Council. We must all be very well aware of the various ways in which Russia is affecting activity across the continent and elsewhere. There can be no question of business as usual with Russia.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of party donations. I will say two things to him. First, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at the weekend, you should not tar everybody who lives in this country of Russian extraction with the same brush. Secondly, there are rules on party political donations, and I can assure him that my party, and I hope all parties, follow those rules.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about Magnitsky powers. I have been challenged previously on this question. We do already have some of the powers that are being proposed in relation to the Magnitsky law. However, we have already been talking with all parties about the amendment that has been put down, and we will work with others to ensure that we have the maximum possible consensus before the Report stage.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of police capabilities and resources. Not only are Wiltshire police involved in this, but they have support from neighbouring forces, as would normally happen when an incident takes place which requires that extra capability. But crucially, at a very early stage, it was decided that counter-terrorism police should take over the responsibility for this because the counter-terrorism police network has capabilities that are not available to regional forces, and they are indeed in charge in relation to this.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that Wiltshire County Council and Salisbury City Council are working with Public Health England, with the NHS locally and with the police to ensure that there is maximum information available to members of the public—the chief medical officer has herself reassured members of the public that the public health risk is low—and to ensure that the proper arrangements are being put in place to help the police to get on with their inquiries. That is important. The police are still working on investigating this, and we should ensure that they have the time and space to be able to conduct those investigations.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for rising to this occasion as she should? Many in this House would wish that the Leader of the Opposition had abandoned party politics and done just the same.
My right hon. Friend is quite right: if the response from the Russian ambassador is simply not credible, she is right to expect the House to back her in taking the most severe action as is required and commensurate. She is also right to remind the House, and the country, that this country—Russia—is now as close to being a rogue state as any. It occupies Crimea; it has helped to occupy eastern Ukraine; and it has created a hell on earth in Syria, and is even now overseeing worse action. This is a country locking up its members of the opposition. Frankly—we have learned this lesson before—if we appease a country like this, we can expect even worse.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He is absolutely right. Nobody should be in any doubt about the various activities that the Russian state is involved in across the continent of Europe and elsewhere and the damage that that is doing in so many different places. He is absolutely right that that is why it is important that this Government—this country—stand up very clearly and not only call out actions by Russia but also ensure that we have a robust response to them.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statement. I share her concerns about the recent attack on Salisbury. It is important that we all work together to get to the bottom of what has happened there. There can be no denying that this assassination attempt on Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is not only a step too far by those responsible; it also calls into question every aspect of our current and future relationship with Russia. This ruthless action not only put at risk the lives of our emergency services but threatened the safety of the wider public who were enjoying a Sunday afternoon in the cathedral city of Salisbury. Everyone has the right to live in the UK in security and safety, and any challenge to that right needs to be responded to in an appropriate manner. The police have so far identified more than 200 witnesses and 240 pieces of evidence in the attempted killing.
All our thoughts are with Nick Bailey and his family, and we wish him a speedy recovery. We commend the emergency services for putting their lives on the line in order to defend all of us. However, there are legitimate concerns around the delay in time between the events on Sunday 4 March and yesterday, when the chief medical officer advised the public who had been at the restaurant and at the pub to wash their clothing and personal items. Can the Prime Minister give reassurances today to those members of the public who have real concerns that they might have been exposed to the effects of the nerve agent used?
I welcome the actions detailed in the Prime Minister’s statement. May I ask her when she intends to return to the House to update us on the measures that we can all take? Firm and strong action must be taken to send a clear message to the Kremlin that we will not accept Russian interference in our democracy or in our way of life. I hope that she will take the time to raise this matter with colleagues across the EU, our closest allies, to help to give us a strong voice when we all say, as one, that this kind of international outrage must never be seen again on our streets.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone that he has adopted in his response to the statement. This is indeed a matter that should concern us all; it is a matter of national interest. An attack has taken place, and we must respond to it appropriately, as he has said. He asked about the chief medical officer’s most recent advice to those who had been in the Zizzi restaurant or in the pub. The answer to that is that, over the course of time last week, as work was being done on this issue, more information became available about the nature of the agent that had been used. That led to that precautionary advice being given yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman also asked when I would be returning to the House. As I said in my statement, we will consider in detail the response from the Russian state on Wednesday, and I will return to the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
This, if not an act of war, was certainly a warlike act by the Russian Federation, and it is not the first that we have seen. Some in this House have stayed silent or decided to join the information warfare that that state is conducting against us and our allies, but we have seen it invade countries in the east, attack allies and attempt to kill Prime Ministers. Even now, it is backing the murderous Assad regime which thinks nothing of gassing its own people, yet the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition stays silent. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for us to call on our allies—the European Union, which has worked with us so well on sanctions, NATO and particularly the United States—and ask what they will do to assist us in this moment when we are in need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we should be giving a robust response from the whole of this House to this incident—this act that has taken place. There have already been a number of engagements with our allies on this particular matter, and we will continue to talk to them to ensure that they are aware of what has happened on British soil and that we can talk with them about the response that we will be giving.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the most effective ways of punishing Russia for these appalling activities would be to seize the private property assets of members of the Putin regime and its associates? As a first step, could she arrange to publish a list of who they are and what they own?
Of course, we are aware of the need in the United Kingdom to ensure that our financial system cannot be used for illicit money flows, that appropriate action is taken by law enforcement and other bodies to ensure that we identify such flows and that we make the appropriate response to them. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are already putting in place a number of measures to improve the information that is available in a transparent way in relation to the holding of certain assets here by those from overseas, and that is something we will continue to work on.
I entirely agree with the Prime Minister’s approach to this murderous attack. She will be aware, as she has stated, that it is part of a pattern of behaviour by which a state uses covert means in breach of both international law and the rule of law to attack with impunity whoever it wishes. In those circumstances, does she agree that we face a very particular challenge that is not likely to go away any time soon? In that context, in trying to inform the public of the risks and of the appropriate way of responding for a parliamentary democracy, can I encourage her to make use of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which chose to carry out an inquiry into Russia’s threat last autumn, so that we can take that forward and provide as much information as we can publicly about the nature of the threat and the best means of responding to it?
It was very good that the ISC had already announced that it would be considering issues around Russian activity against the UK that requires investigation. I look forward to the work that my right hon. and learned Friend’s Committee will be doing on that, and the Government will work with the ISC to share relevant information that is within its remit.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. It is hard to see any alternative to her grave conclusion that this was either a direct act by the Russian state against our country or the Russian Government have lost control of a dangerous nerve agent. In that context, I hope the whole House will be able to come together behind a firm response from the Government in the interests of our national security and public safety. Can I therefore ask her whether the National Security Council has asked for a review of the 14 other cases that I wrote to the Home Secretary about to see whether any of those should be investigated? Can I also press her on what further action she has taken in preparation for potential UN Security Council resolutions that should be drafted in order to get the widest possible international support?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need for a clear response from the whole House, and everybody in the House should be in no doubt of the nature of what has happened and that we should respond robustly to it. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has responded to her letter in relation to those 14 other cases. I think the focus at the moment should be on ensuring that resources are put into this criminal investigation, so that the police are able to do their work with the maximum time and space.
Does the Prime Minister recall that when Edward Heath expelled more than 100 Russian so-called diplomats in the early 1970s, it gave a blow to Russian intelligence operations against this country from which it did not recover until the end of the cold war? Does she also recall that when it was clear that a member of the Libyan embassy staff—which one was unknown—had killed WPC Yvonne Fletcher, a wholesale expulsion of staff occurred then? As it would be impossible for an operation to have been mounted by the Russian state without someone in the London Russian embassy knowing about it, does she therefore conclude that similar measures may well be necessary?
I thank my right hon. Friend. As I said in my statement, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has called the Russian ambassador into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today and presented the two possibilities of the origin of this action to him. We wait for the Russian state’s response. I am very clear that, should that response not be credible, we will conclude that this action is an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, and as I said earlier, I will come back to the House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response.
Order. Naturally, there is the most intense interest in this extraordinarily grave matter, and I am keen to accommodate colleagues. May I ask colleagues to help me to help each of them by confining themselves to pithy questions?
Does the Prime Minister agree that, in the face of yet further aggression from the Russian mafia state, the policy of the Leader of the Opposition of engaging in robust dialogue will only encourage Putin to engage in further acts of state-sponsored terror? Does she agree that in the national interest and, regardless of the cost to this country, the only effective answer is to take robust action against those who are using the UK as a battleground in which to carry out their own acts of assassination?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need to ensure that we do in fact respond robustly to this matter, but we need to do so having given careful consideration to the assessments that have been made and the information that is available to us, and that is exactly what the Government are doing. Nobody in this House should be in any doubt that there can be no suggestion of business as usual in relation to our interaction with Russia.
The whole country will welcome the precise and clear statement that the Prime Minister has delivered to the House this afternoon. In particular, she has set out precisely what she will do in terms of laying out the evidence for the international community and the United Nations about the act that has been perpetrated on British soil. May I also welcome the comments she made about the so-called Magnitsky amendment? Many of us on both sides of the House of Commons believe that this could make a big contribution, and I hope that she will continue to consider following America, Canada and three European countries in introducing such an amendment.
I recognise that my right hon. Friend is supporting the amendment and has been working on this issue. I say to him, as I have previously, that we want to ensure that we get the maximum possible consensus across the House on this particular issue. [Interruption.] We will talk to the parties involved to ensure that the approach taken is one that—[Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary keeps saying, “There is an amendment down.” There is an amendment down, and discussions are taking place with parties about the impact of the amendment as currently drafted. We will ensure that any action taken will be action that we can be sure will work.
May I commend the Prime Minister for today making the sort of resolute and realistic statement about the Kremlin that many of us have been looking for in this House for some time? Will she invite the heroic and brave Bill Browder, who has done more than any other single individual to uncover the Kremlin’s methods, to give her a full briefing about what he knows of Putin’s cronies’ money-laundering exploits in London and the British political figures who have been corrupted by Kremlin money? Will she also make sure that the whole of the Government machinery is now giving full co-operation to Robert Mueller’s inquiry in the United States, because of what he has already uncovered about what the Russians have been doing here?
We have already been clear, in relation to the Mueller inquiry, that we will of course respond to appropriate requests. I am told that the other individual to which the right hon. Gentleman referred has actually already met the Security Minister, and has therefore been able to brief him on what he knows.
Friends from especially Scandinavia, the Baltics and across eastern Europe have often told me how much they feel increasingly at risk from the rise in Russian aggression. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on how we will work with our allies in response to this incident?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am very conscious that those who are, particularly geographically, close to Russia on the European continent very much feel the immediacy of many of the activities that Russia gets involved in, particularly, for example, matters of propaganda use. I will certainly be speaking to a number of our allies. It is important that people recognise not only what has taken place here in the United Kingdom, but, if it is a Russian state activity, the implications it has for Russia’s activities elsewhere on the continent of Europe.
Can I also commend the Prime Minister for her remarks? The last time we had a clear, defined, state-sponsored act of terrorism was in 2006, and she has referred to that. Can she have conversations with her predecessor, Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at that time, about some of the issues that arose subsequent to the actions we took because it is clear that the Russians will retaliate and we will then be in a tit-for-tat process? They think we will back down. We have to say, resolutely and strongly, that we are not backing down. This is an act of terrorism and all Members of Parliament should stand together.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When we take action, we must ensure that it is action that we will continue to follow through. As I said in my statement, many of the actions taken in response to the Litvinenko murder are actually still in place in relation to our relations with the Russian state. Nobody should be in any doubt, however, of the likelihood of an impact from the Russian state in attempting to suggest, as it did in that case, that the information we put out is incorrect. The inquiry, which followed significantly later, very firmly put the responsibility for Litvinenko’s murder at the door of the Russian state and, indeed, of President Putin.
May I commend the Prime Minister for the robust tone of her statement, which is entirely appropriate? Does she accept that, while we may not be in a period of cold war with Russia, as we were in the 1980s, it could be said that, because of its actions, we are at least now entering a period of cool war? If that be so, would she be prepared, at the appropriate time, to look again at our ability to deter Russia and at the resources we may require to do so?
As I have said previously, there is no question of business as usual with Russia. We must be very clear about the actions it has taken. This incident proves that the actions we have taken over the past decade have been entirely justified. What we see is a Kremlin that seems to be intent on dismantling the international rules-based order, and we should stand up resolutely in defence of that international order.
The evidence that the Prime Minister has provided today makes it absolutely clear that the onus is on the Russian state to explain how this nerve agent entered our country. I thank her for her answer to my colleague, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is absolutely essential that we can, where possible, ensure that the public are aware of the Russian threat. Does she also agree that our inquiry should be able to understand the pressures on our intelligence and security services, and how best they are supported to do the job they have to do?
Of course, it is for the ISC itself to determine the breadth of the inquiries it undertakes within the remit that it has been set by this House and by Government. Extra resources are being put into the security and intelligence agencies because we have recognised the increasing challenges and threats that we need to address. That is why significant resources are going into the single intelligence account.
Given the grisly fate of so many of President Putin’s opponents, both at home and abroad, including even those with a high profile such as Boris Nemtsov, no one in this House, least of all the Leader of the Opposition, should have any doubt of the nature of the Government with whom we are dealing. Having said that, and while I support all the measures the Prime Minister will take against the Government of Russia if the situation turns out to be as we all anticipate, will she try, as far as is possible, to ensure that British society, in its widest sense, can continue to be open with the people of Russia so that the virus of truth and openness can do its work on that regime?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are talking about the dealings the UK Government and this country have with the Russian state. It is important that people in Russia understand the exact nature of the regime in government there at the moment.
I do not suppose there is a single Member who is surprised that President Putin would resort to violence, because he has done it so many times before: 334 killed in the Beslan massacre; 170 killed unnecessarily in the Moscow theatre siege; 299 killed on flight MH17, the aeroplane brought down by the Russians; countless journalists and countless people who stood up to him as political opponents in other countries around the world murdered by him; and, yes, Sergei Magnitsky. I hear what the Prime Minister says, but may I just ask—this is the 29th time I have asked this question—whether we can ensure that, at the end of this process, nobody involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, or in the corruption that he unveiled, will be allowed into this country? For that matter, can we just stop Russia Today broadcasting its propaganda in this country?
The hon. Gentleman has asked me the question about the Magnitsky issue on many occasions in this House, both when I was Home Secretary and subsequently. We already have a number of powers that enable us to take action against individuals to prevent them from coming into this country, but we are looking seriously at the amendments. As I said, we want to ensure we have maximum consensus on this issue. On further action the Government might take, I will return to the House at the earliest possible opportunity, once we have a response from the Russian state, to update the House on the further measures we will take.
If one permanent member of the UN Security Council carries out a targeted assassination in the country of another, surely it is time for the UN Secretary-General to launch an immediate inquiry.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his suggestion. The United Nations is one of the bodies, along with other allies and other organisations such as NATO, we will be speaking to about the nature of the incident that has taken place here in the United Kingdom. We will certainly be raising this matter with the UN.
While the investigations are ongoing, we are waiting for a response from the Russian Government. May I ask the Prime Minister what her Government are doing to protect other people who might be targeted here in the UK?
We do not talk about the measures that are taken in relation to individuals. That is a matter for the police and for law enforcement generally, but I can assure the hon. Lady that it is being considered.
I think I have just seen—I am looking at the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) as I say this—the most shameful moment in the House of Commons in my time to date. It is clear that our sovereign United Kingdom has come under attack from another state. Does the Prime Minister agree that the character of conflict is changing, that we must be relentless in trying to keep pace with it and that nothing will stop those who are doing this work from receiving the resources they need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the character of the threats we face is changing. They are diversifying and we need to ensure that we are able to deal with them across the range of actions that need to be taken. Indeed, some will not always fall into what might conventionally be considered to be defence.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that we bear the Russian people nothing but good will? It is President Putin who we have in our sights and we will not allow him to use this in the presidential elections to burnish his image as a strong man.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is the Russian state we are challenging in relation to this particular act that has taken place on UK soil, not the Russian people.
Is it not increasingly clear that we are engaged in hybrid warfare with Russia that includes disinformation, political interference, cyber-attacks and now very possibly this act of attempted murder? In considering how to respond, will my right hon. Friend also look at what additional help we might give to the people of Ukraine, who are the front line in resisting Russian aggression and expansionism?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right: we need to look across the diverse nature of the threat that we face and the actions that we are taking. We have already been taking a number of actions in support of Ukraine. That is also an important part of our deliberations and of our response.
The Schleswig-Holstein question was understood by only three people. Everybody understands what is happening here today and there can be no criticism of the tone that the Prime Minister has adopted. She will know that, under article 4 of NATO, she can raise this as a concern with our NATO allies. Does she intend to do so?
As I have said in response to a number of other questions, we will be raising this with allies in a number of forms. As I said earlier, we will consider the response from the Russian state on Wednesday, and I will return at the earliest possible opportunity to the House to set out further measures.
Will the Prime Minister join me in commending Wiltshire’s police and health services, who have done a superb job in responding to this difficult case, and in highlighting the level of dedication and public service that is evident not just in Wiltshire, but up and down the country in our emergency services?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the valuable work that has been done by emergency services in Wiltshire. They are a fine example of the dedication and commitment of our public services and emergency services across the whole country.
I have absolutely no doubt that the only way to deal with Putin’s regime in Russia is robustly, decisively and together as a Parliament and a country. I also add my voice to those talking about the repression of the Russian people, not least in Chechnya, where Putin continues to back the brutal regime of Ramzan Kadyrov and his attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. On Russia Today, can I urge the Prime Minister to speak with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to look at reviewing Russia Today’s broadcasting licence and to speak to the House authorities about blocking its broadcasts in this building? Why should we be watching its propaganda in this Parliament?
As I said in response to a number of questions, we will look at the response from the Russian state but I will come back to the House at the earliest opportunity to look at the range of measures that could be necessary. In relation to the House authorities, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, that would be a matter not for me, but for the House authorities.
I think that we have heard the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) loudly and clearly.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her powerful statement and on her leadership in this incredibly grave matter. Is Russia a fit and proper state to be hosting or engaging in international sporting fixtures in 2018?
As I said in response in Prime Minister’s questions last week, we will be in the position of considering the attendance at the particular event that is coming up in Russia—the World cup—of dignitaries and Ministers from the United Kingdom.
I say to the Prime Minister that there should be unity across the House on what I feel is the proportionate and sensible approach that she has taken to analysing what has been happening and to coming back to report to the House. I also say that there are certain circumstances, as she knows, where we take party political differences of opinion, but when our country is potentially under attack, that is just not appropriate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone that he has adopted. He is absolutely right: this is a question of the national interest. It is a question of the interest of our country and what another state may have done on British soil to people living here in the United Kingdom. That matter should concern all of us and be above party politics.
I know, having served with my right hon. Friend in the Home Office, that she will do what is right to keep our country safe. Will she confirm that, if Her Majesty’s Government conclude that there was unlawful use of force by the Russian state, we possess a considerable range of offensive cyber-capabilities that we will not hesitate to deploy against that state, if it is necessary to keep our country safe?
We, of course, will look at responses across a number of areas of activity, should it be—as my right hon. Friend said and as I said in my statement—that we conclude that this action does amount to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state here in the UK.
It is good that the Prime Minister has come here today to spell out what actions have already been taken and has promised to return again to inform us of what happens next. Will she also make sure that the lessons learnt in the Salisbury community about this threat and how to prevent it in local communities is shared in an appropriate way with other communities across the country?
I am very happy to say that I am sure lessons will be coming out of this for local communities, the NHS and the police as they look into this matter. We will ensure that those are available to all across the country.
In considering Russia, we should never forget that, for all its geographical size, Russia’s economy is little more than half that of the UK. In those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that British economic levers are far more potent than some might realise and that we should not hesitate, if the circumstances demand it, to pull them hard?
As I have said, we will be looking at the full range of measures once we have considered the response that comes from the Russian state. The United Kingdom has in fact been one of the leaders in ensuring that, within the European Union, sanctions against Russia are in place as a result of the action that they took in Crimea and Ukraine.
This horrific attempted murder on British soil demands a strong and united response from this House. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the nerve agent in question is banned under the chemical weapons convention and that Russia is a signatory to that convention?
Yes, it is illegal to use a nerve agent of this sort. I understand that it is one that is banned under the convention.
Would the Prime Minister agree that this attack probably involved a professional, Russian-trained operative in order for such an individually targeted assault to be carried out with what must have been a minute amount of something like sarin, VX, or tabun, which could so easily have had catastrophic, wide-scale, indiscriminate and deadly consequences?
I will not speculate about the nature of the individual or individuals who are responsible for this attack. That is of course a matter for the police investigation.
Now we have all agreed that Russia is a clear and present danger, will the Prime Minister agree that we have to be fully organised to meet that danger? If we walk out into London tonight, we see Russian mafia and Russian security people swaggering about our capital city—all over Europe we see them. What they do not like is sanctions that bite. Will she come back to this House on an early occasion with a firm list of new sanctions that we can take against Russia?
The hon. Gentleman is asking me to refer to a particular measure. As I said in my statement and in answer to a number of questions, we will consider the response from the Russian state. Should there be no credible response, we will determine and conclude that the action amounts to unlawful use of force by the Russian state in the United Kingdom, and I will return with further measures.
Would my right hon. Friend confirm that, despite the difficulties that the American presidency may have on these issues, we are fully engaged with the American Government and our allies on this very important matter?
I am very happy to give my right hon. Friend the confirmation that we have engaged with our allies and will continue to engage with them on this important issue.
I thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House with this very important, but sadly not surprising conclusion today. She is going to make a further statement on Wednesday, but can I ask her to say a bit more about the possible responses and to ensure, at a time when voices and forces are trying to erode confidence in open democratic societies, that those responses will place us firmly and foursquare behind the solidarity and security of the west?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not set out today what the response will be. We obviously need to consider the response from the Russian state and then put together the appropriate further measures to ensure the robust response that I and other Members have called for. He can rest assured, however, as can other Members, that we see a Russia that is flouting the international rules-based order—we have been very clear about that—that we will stand up for democracy, the rule of law and the international rules-based order and the values that underpin it, and that we remain committed to the security and defence of Europe and to defending the values that underpin the west.
I understand that the nerve agent Novichok was developed by Russia specifically to avoid being covered by the chemical weapons treaty and to avoid detection by standard equipment. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Novichok is a totally illegal substance under a treaty to which Russia is a signatory and that any knowledge of detection and treatment that we gain from this ghastly attack will be shared with authorities, including health authorities, in this country and with our allies abroad?
It is very clear that the use of such a nerve agent goes against the spirit of the chemical weapons treaty. As my hon. Friend would expect, we will be talking to the responsible chemical weapons body and raising this issue.
In the light of her comments, which I commend, does the Prime Minister agree that there is no place for hon. Members on either side of the House appearing on Russia Today? It is a propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian state with which no democratic politician should engage, and they should think twice before doing so. We should not be engaging with and giving credibility to such a media outlet.
We should all be wary and careful in looking at media outlets that any Member chooses to appear on. As I said, the issue of Russia Today is of concern to Members across the House, and I will make a further statement in the House after we have had the Russian state response.
In the early 1980s, the planning assumption was that the road to war with the Soviet Union would be preceded by six months of increasing tension, sabotage and assassination. What are the current assumptions?
There was a time when the threats posed by Russia and others were clear and limited in their type; today, we see a diversity of threats. The previous question referenced Russia’s use of propaganda, and we see it using a variety of means by which to attempt to interfere, intervene and affect countries in the west. We must be able to respond across the range of threats posed.
I thank the Prime Minister for her remarks about this growing crisis. I appreciate that she will not want to discuss individual circumstances, but can she reassure the House that not only former Russian and eastern European nationals who might have offended Mr Putin, but high-profile British figures and, indeed, British public buildings are being reviewed to determine their security status in the light of the recent situation?
As I said earlier, we do not comment on individual cases—the hon. Lady is absolutely right about that. On national security, we regularly monitor and update the actions taken to protect people and premises here in the UK based on the threat as we perceive it at the time.
As someone who has campaigned for a Magnitsky law and who was a member of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Public Bill Committee, may I say that the Opposition amendments, though well intentioned, were flawed and can be improved on? I am extremely grateful for the co-operation of Ministers and hope that the discussions will be fruitful. Will my right hon. Friend reflect the need for our allies abroad to understand that this could easily have happened in a provincial town in France, Germany or any other country, and that we are looking for action as well as warm words of support?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, a supporter of the Magnitsky law, for highlighting the point I was trying to make earlier, which is that if amendments are to be added to legislation, we need to ensure they are workable. We need to get the amendments right. On his point about our allies, he is absolutely right: we should point out to people that this could have happened anywhere, in any provincial town or city like Salisbury.
The level of resilience voiced by the Prime Minister today has been many years in coming, but it is hugely welcome—indeed, it would put our national security at significant risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat that Russia poses to this nation. She mentioned our NATO allies and that she will come forward with measures on Wednesday. Will she confirm that our NATO allies and the potential for a collective response is in her thinking?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is absolutely right: it is imperative that in this country we recognise the nature of the threat and actions Russia has taken through a wide range of means. I am also clear that. as we consider what further actions need to be taken. we must ensure they are robust, clearly defend our values here in the UK and send a clear message to those who would seek to undermine them.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her robust stance against Russian aggression. She will be aware that the most effective sanctions are those taken multilaterally. The concern of some is that when we leave the EU, we will lose our seat at the table on the body that sets those sanctions. Will she therefore reassure us that a lot of effort will go into building up a new relationship to ensure continuity in our approach towards Russia?
The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) raised this issue of collective action. Obviously, as my hon. Friend says, the position in relation to the UK Government’s actions on sanctions will change when we leave the EU, and we are putting in place measures to ensure that the UK can act independently, but I also made it clear in my Mansion House speech that we would want to work with our allies on such issues. As he and the hon. Gentleman have said, sanctions are more effective when undertaken collectively.
I commend the Prime Minister for the stance she has adopted today. When she returns to the House, will she take the opportunity to assuage the cross-party concerns on the Select Committee on Defence about the de-escalation of our presence in the high north, the reduction in maritime surveillance and patrols, and the cancellation of this year’s cold weather training? There is a need for investment in defence, and I hope she will take this opportunity to deliver it.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we consider very carefully the actions we take, including the training exercises that our military forces undertake. As I indicated in my statement, I am pleased that our forces are leading part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Estonia. I visited those forces in Estonia last autumn, and I can say that it is not only valuable for our forces but hugely welcomed by the people of Estonia, who obviously are right against the border with Russia and feel the threat very particularly.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement, and I pay tribute to a group of individuals who have, I think, been unmentioned so far this afternoon: the armed forces personnel who attended with the professionalism and selfless devotion to duty that we expect of them.
What is the Prime Minister doing with our allies in NATO, the United Nations and, of course, the European Union to ensure the maintenance of the international rules-based system, which is under systemic threat from the Russian Federation?
I reiterate my hon. Friend’s comments about the armed forces. In fact, I did mention them in my statement, but let me again praise the work that they did, alongside our emergency services, in relation to this incident, as well as what they do for us day in, day out. I assure my hon. Friend that we will look very carefully at any further measures that we should be taking in response to the incident.
The Prime Minister should know that if by Wednesday she concludes that we are indeed embattled, she will find both unity and resolve across the House as we face down a common threat.
Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of a wave of al-Qaeda-inspired attacks, we transformed the capacity of Governments to co-ordinate and fight back against extremism. May I urge the Prime Minister, in respect of the measures that she will introduce on Wednesday, to think radically about how she will create Government capacity to co-ordinate our response to this new level of threat, including new safeguards against the abuse of social media, which we know is part of the Russians’ active measures playbook?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and for the tone in which he made them. He is right: after the attacks by al-Qaeda, it was very clear that the then Government were putting in place a whole new structure of response in terms of counter-terrorism. UK Governments have been consistently looking at hostile state activity for many years, but in our national security capability review, as we look at our ability to react to the threats that we now face, we will of course ensure that the structures within Government are such that it is possible to co-ordinate properly the actions that we need to take.
I welcome the statesmanlike tone of the Prime Minister’s comments. They were in stark contrast to those of the Leader of the Opposition, whose Soviet ramblings would have done no benefit to Russia Today. May I urge her to be uncompromising in signalling that British and European liberal democratic values are not negotiable, and that this Government will not allow this country to be a playground for Kremlin kleptocrats? Will she consider aggressive cultural sanctions to hit Mr Putin and his team where it hurts, and, in particular, will she consider boycotting sporting events?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I assure him that, as I have said to others, we will consider a range of activities—a range of responses—and I will update the House further at the earliest opportunity. Let me also confirm that we will continue to defend the democratic values that underpin us as a country, but wish to do so alongside our allies. It was remarked earlier that the international rules-based order is under threat from Russia. I have to say that it is also under threat from others, and it is important that we stand up and robustly defend it.
Three people are gravely ill in hospital following this horrific chain of events. I welcome the Prime Minister’s resolve that business cannot go on as usual. Will she take this opportunity to tighten up the loopholes in the system in respect of money laundering, so that the “From Russia With Cash” situation that has occurred all too often does not turn into “From Russia With Blood”?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government recently took extra powers to enable us to deal with criminal finances through the Criminal Finances Act 2017, and I think it important that we did that. We are well aware that the very attractiveness of normal financial activity here in London can mean that there are those who see an opportunity for illicit flows of money, and we will take every possible action against them.
I welcome the strength of the Prime Minister’s statement. I am sure that she, like me, will be concerned by the parallels with a previous time when autocratic leaders decided to challenge the international rules-based system to prove that might would be right. Can she reassure me that she will work with allies to make very clear to Mr Putin that, like them, he could easily go down the path to disaster and defeat?
I will certainly be working with allies to make very clear our defence of the international rules-based order, and that those who attack it will not win.
Today the focus has inevitably been on the Russians who are crooks and cronies of Putin. There are many decent Russians who have bravely spoken out against the regime, but those whom I have met over the years, both here and in Russia, sometimes feel very alone. Can we do more than just send a signal that we are absolutely appalled by what Putin has done? We need to send a signal of solidarity with those who are trying to resist his regime.
The hon. Lady speaks well about this matter. There are those who have bravely spoken out. We should be very clear that we support them in doing so. We want to ensure that they are able and free to do so, and able to feel confident about doing so, without fearing action that might be taken against them as a result.
I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for the statesmanlike way in which she is handling this appalling case. If it is indeed proved that it was state-sponsored, will she ensure that the response is not just from the United Kingdom, but from NATO and all our European allies? Together we stand, and divided we provide an opening for this man.
We have already been talking to allies about the nature of the act that has taken place, and we will continue to do so. We will encourage our allies to recognise the despicable nature of what has happened in the United Kingdom.
The main security challenges are state-sponsored terrorism, Daesh-sponsored terrorism and threats to cyber-security. Should not the UK defence portfolio be redesigned to meet those challenges, rather than concentrating on a new generation of nuclear weapons?
The hon. Gentleman refers to a number of threats. We ensure that we have the capabilities to address the terrorist threat and the threat of hostile state activity through a variety of actions that the Government take. As I said earlier, not every response sits within what would conventionally be called defence. The work of the security and intelligence agencies and the work of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, which sits in the Home Office, are also involved. That is why our national security capability review is important in bringing together all parts of our response and ensuring that we have the capabilities we need.
The Prime Minister is clearly right to suggest that, from hacking infrastructure to spreading disinformation, Russia has been waging a cyber-war against the west for a number of years. As Home Secretary, she took the Bill that became the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 through the House with cross-party support. Can she now reassure the House that if more such powers are needed, she will not hesitate to ask for them?
I am happy to confirm that. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is already considering what further counter-terrorism powers may be needed.
Since my election I have spent a great deal of time campaigning for more protections for emergency services workers, and it is particularly disappointing that we are now having to reflect on how we can keep them safe from nerve agents. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which made clear that what was particularly reckless about this attack was the decision to use a nerve agent that would inevitably put at risk members of the public, as well as our emergency services and NHS workers who would have to respond. I welcome the news that she will put that at the forefront of the meeting that she is due to have this week, and will put the seriousness of the risk presented to police and NHS workers in particular at the forefront of the robust measures that are now needed.
The hon. Lady has raised a very important point about our emergency services. We have already, in recent years, had a further look at the framework within which they operate and the sort of incidents to which they might need to respond, but we will of course continue to keep this under review.
The attacks on Mr Litvinenko and Colonel Skripal had one thing in common: they were designed not just to kill, but to kill in a particularly terrifying and horrible way. With that dreadful threat in mind, will the Prime Minister ensure that our national defence is in sufficient shape to meet that Russian threat in terms of composition, location and funding?
Yes. As I have said in response to a number of questions, this is a matter of the capabilities that we have across our national security and defence. It is important that we have been conducting, and are continuing to conduct, a number of reviews that go straight to the heart of this matter, to ensure that we have the capabilities that we need across the board.
I commend the Prime Minister for their statement and the robustness with which they addressed the House. Will they assure the House that in the coming days, when they discuss next actions with our allies, they will act robustly with some of our more recalcitrant NATO allies—notably Spain—who give port to the Russian fleet to allow them to refuel? Enough is enough.
As I have said, I will of course be raising this issue with allies, and we will be talking with them about the nature of the response that we feel is appropriate to such an action having taken place.