Theresa May expels 23 Russian diplomats following nerve agent attack in Salisbury

The Prime Minister is suspending high-level contacts with Russia and that 23 Russian diplomats will be expelled from the UK in response to the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury earlier this month.

The diplomats were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” and have been given “just one week to leave” by Theresa May.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mrs May added that dignitaries, including members of the royal family, will not attend this summer’s World Cup.

“We will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian government,” the Prime Minister said.

“Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.”

She welcomed support from allies including the US, NATO and the EU, and said Britain would be pushing for a “robust international response” at the UN Security Council later on Wednesday.

“This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury – nor just an act against UK,” said Mrs May.

“It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. And it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend.”

Russia had failed to provide any “credible” explanation of events and of why it has “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”, she said.

She added that the UK will urgently prepare new powers to detain people suspected of hostile state activity at the border, as well as introducing possible counter espionage systems.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has released a statement welcoming NATO’s support in the wake of the attack in which he states that the attack is “a blatant breach of international rules and agreements”:

The Russian Embassy have released a statement in response to the British Government’s actions, saying:

 “On March 14 Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was informed that 23 diplomats were declared personae non gratae (persons not welcome).

“We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.

“All the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain”.

Mrs May blamed Russia for the Salisbury attack after it was discovered the nerve agent Novichok was developed in Russia and framed the poisoning as a possible “unlawful use of force”.

European Council president Donald Tusk also said he would put the poisoning on the agenda of next week’s European Council meeting.

He tweeted: “I express my full solidarity with PM @theresa_may in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow. I’m ready to put the issue on next week’s #EUCO agenda.

“For real friends, this should be obvious: At a time of fake news spreading, meddling in our elections, and attacks on people on our soil with nerve agent, the response must not be transatlantic bickering but transatlantic unity.”

Former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan said the events in Salisbury were “part of a pattern where a modern nation has chosen to step outside the rules that govern behaviour of civilised countries”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today the response should include “the expulsion of diplomats on a scale we probably haven’t seen since the Cold War” but also “hitting the economic targets” including those who do business in London.

But he warned against a large-scale cyber attack against Russia even though the UK had “great capabilities” to mount a “destructive” response.