The Prime Minister will kick out Russian diplomats, suspend bilateral relations with Moscow, toughen sanctions powers and lead a boycott of dignitaries at this summer’s World Cup in response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Following the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday there can be “no alternative conclusion” other than the Russian state being responsible for the attempted murder.
Speaking to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister accused Moscow of merely offering “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”, with their response demonstrating “complete disdain for the gravity of these events”.
She spoke after a deadline passed at midnight on Tuesday without a “credible explanation” from Russia for the use of military-grade nerve agent novichok in the UK.
Mrs May described how the “reckless and despicable act” represented an “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK” as she vowed a “full and robust response”.
Outlining the UK’s response, the Prime Minister told MPs the Government will:
:: Expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers, giving them just one week to leave. This is part of an attempt to dismantle the Russian spy network in the UK
:: Urgently develop proposals for new laws to harden defences against hostile state activity, including widening anti-terror powers to detain suspects at the UK border
:: Consider the need for new counter-espionage powers
:: Strengthen the Sanctions Bill with new US-style “Magnitsky” powers to act against human rights abusers
:: Increase checks on private flights, customs and freights
:: Freeze Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals
:: Suspend all planned high level bilateral contacts with Russia, including revoking the invitation to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to visit the UK
:: Send no ministers or members of the Royal Family to this summer’s World Cup in Russia
The Prime Minister also signalled further action against Russia, but stated this “cannot be shared publicly for reasons of national security”.
Speaking after a meeting with Mrs May in Downing Street earlier, the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, branded the action “absolutely unacceptable” and “a provocation”.
He told Sky News: “We believe the measures which are [being] taken by the British Government is nothing to do with the situation in Salisbury.
“We believe this is real, very serious provocation. We are not ready to talk in the way of the ultimatums.”
Mrs May told the House of Commons the UK has “no disagreement with the people of Russia” and had hoped for a better relationship with the post-Soviet country.
But, she added: “It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.”
The Prime Minister insisted the Government “will not tolerate the threat to life to British people” on UK soil of a nerve agent attack, as she revealed the US, Germany and France have pledged co-operation in responding to “this barbaric act”.
Mrs May also welcomed support from NATO and the EU as she insisted the Government will push for action at the United Nations Security Council, while also working with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the Salisbury attack “an appalling act of violence”, adding: “Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war – it is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.”
But he asked whether Mrs May agreed it is “essential to maintain a robust dialogue with Russia” while suspending high-level contact.
He also said the UK should “urge our international allies to join us and call on Russia to reveal without delay full details of its chemical weapons programme”.
Mr Corbyn was then heckled by Tory MPs as he expressed “huge regret” that there had been cuts of 25% to the UK’s diplomatic capacity in the last five years.
Responding to the Labour leader, Mrs May told Mr Corbyn: “It is clear from the conversations I have had with allies that we have a consensus with our allies, it was clear from the remarks that were made by backbenchers across the whole of this House on Monday that there is a consensus across the backbenches of this House.
“I am only sorry that the consensus does not go as far as the Right Honourable gentleman, who could have taken the opportunity – as the UK Government has done – to condemn the culpability of the Russian state.”
After the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford committed his party to “working constructively with the Government” over the “unlawful” attack by Russian against the UK, Chancellor Philip Hammond told Mr Blackford “send him a copy” as he pointed towards Mr Corbyn.
Another Tory MP was heard to shout: “That’s how you do it.”
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman later threatened a deeper row when he refused to say if the Labour leader believed Russia was at fault.
The spokesman said: “The Government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t.
“However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly.
“So, I think the right approach is to seek the evidence to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibitive chemical weapons.”
Asked to comment on the remarks, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons she was “surprised and shocked”.
She added: “It is very clear from the remarks that have been made by backbenchers from the Labour Party that they will be equally concerned by that remark.”
Mrs May spoke after Labour MPs, for the second time this week, again hinted at frustration with their party leader’s response to the Salisbury attack.