Jeremy Corbyn – 2018 Response to the Salisbury Attack Statement

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, in response to the Prime Minister’s statement on the Salisbury attacks, on 15 March 2018.

I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and echo her words about the service of our emergency and public services.

The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war. It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment. This attack in Britain has concerned our allies in the European Union, NATO and the UN, and their words of solidarity have strengthened our position diplomatically. Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights. When it comes to the use of chemical weapons on British soil, it is essential that the Government work with the United Nations to strengthen its chemical weapons monitoring system and involve the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.​

The Prime Minister said on Monday:

“either this was a direct act by the Russian state…or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 620-21.]

Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence. If the Government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the OPCW.

Has the Prime Minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian Government under article IX(2)? How has she responded to the Russian Government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?

Can the Prime Minister update the House on what conversations, if any, she has had with the Russian Government? While suspending planned high-level contacts, does she agree that is essential to retain a robust dialogue with Russia, in the interests of our own and wider international security?

With many countries speaking out alongside us, the circumstances demand that we build an international consensus to address the use of chemical weapons. We should urge our international allies to join us in calling on Russia to reveal without delay full details of its chemical weapons programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is, as we on the Labour Benches have expressed before, a matter of huge regret that our country’s diplomatic capacity has been stripped back, with cuts of 25% in the last five years. It is—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be heard. There will be adequate opportunity for colleagues on both sides of the House to put questions. Members must be heard.

Jeremy Corbyn

I could not understand a word of what the Foreign Secretary just said, but his behaviour demeans his office.

It is in moments such as these that Governments realise how vital strong diplomacy and political pressure are for our security and national interest. The measures we take have to be effective, not just for the long-term security of our citizens but to secure a world free of chemical weapons. Can the Prime Minister outline what discussions she has had with our partners in the European Union, NATO and the UN and what willingness there was to take multilateral action? While the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal are confronting us today, what efforts are being made by the Government to reassess the death of Mr Skripal’s wife, Liudmila, who died in 2012, and the deaths of his elder brother and son in the past two years?

We have a duty to speak out against the abuse of human rights by the Putin Government and their supporters, both at home and abroad, and I join many others in this House in paying tribute to the many campaigners in Russia for human rights, justice and ​democracy in that country. We must do more to address the dangers posed by the state’s relationship with unofficial mafia-like groups and corrupt oligarchs. We must also expose the flows of ill-gotten cash between the Russian state and billionaires who become stupendously rich by looting their country and subsequently use London to protect their wealth. We welcome the Prime Minister today clearly committing to support the Magnitsky amendments and implementing them as soon as possible, as Labour has long pushed for.

Yesterday Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his London home. What reassurances can the Prime Minister give to citizens of Russian origin living in Britain that they are safe here?

The events in Salisbury earlier this month are abominable and have been rightly condemned across the House. Britain has to build a consensus with our allies, and we support the Prime Minister in taking multilateral and firm action to ensure that we strengthen the chemical weapons convention and that this dreadful, appalling act, which we totally condemn, never happens again in our country.