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Boris Johnson threatens fresh Russia sanctions if Kremlin is responsible for Sergei Skripal 'poisoning'

Foreign Secretary also suggests 'UK representation' at this summer’s World Cup in Russia cannot 'go ahead in the normal way'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 06 March 2018 14:09 GMT
Boris Johnson threatens fresh sanctions against Russia after poisoning of Russian double agent

Boris Johnson threatened fresh sanctions against Russia if it is proven to have poisoned a Russian double agent in Wiltshire, as he branded the country “a malign and disruptive force”.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary also floated the prospect of government officials boycotting England's appearance in this summer’s World Cup in Russia in protest.

Mr Johnson said it was too early to know what had happened in Salisbury on Sunday, but said MPs would “note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

“If those suspicions prove to be well grounded, this Government will take whatever measures we deem necessary to protect the lives of the people in this country, our values and our freedoms,” Mr Johnson said.

Pointing to further sanctions on Russia, he said Britain would “take whatever measures we deem necessary to protect the lives of the people in this country, our values and our freedoms”.

“No attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go either unsanctioned or unpunished,” MPs were told.

Russia was “a malign and disruptive force” but Britain was “in the lead” in the world in “trying to counter that activity,” Mr Johnson insisted.

Later, the Foreign Secretary also said it was time for a “serious conversation about engagement with Russia”.

“Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”

However, his aide said later that he was not proposing that the England football team should pull out of the World Cup, but simply that no government official should attend.

Mr Johnson was called to the Commons as Colonel Sergei Skripal fights for his life in intensive care in a Wiltshire hospital.

The former Russian agent, convicted of spying for Britain, was exposed to a mysterious substance as he sat on a bench poisoned near a shopping centre in the city of Salisbury.

A 33-year-old woman who was with him, now identified as his daughter Yulia, is also in a critical condition. Both had collapsed and were unconscious when they were discovered.

John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, said it was “two years since the public inquiry concluded that President Putin almost certainly approved the murder of Alexander Litvinenko”.

“Is it not clear, therefore, that existing sanctions are failing to deter Russia, possibly even from carrying out further assassinations on British soil,” he asked.

“And that the time has come to impose far tougher sanctions against targeted individuals associated with President Putin's regime.”

In reply, Mr Johnson said: “If the suspicions of members on all sides of this House are indeed confirmed, then that is going to have to be one of the options that we look at.”

Labour's Yvette Cooper also raised reports, by BuzzFeed, that 14 deaths in Britain had been linked to Russia by US spy agencies.

The Foreign Secretary agreed there were “a number of deeply troubling cases, adding: “We will certainly follow it up and I will certainly have that discussion with the Home Secretary.”

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