Jeremy Corbyn warns against 'McCarthyite intolerance of dissent' amid Labour split over Russia stance

Labour leader tells ministers not to 'rush way ahead of evidence' on the Salisbury attack

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 15 March 2018 20:04
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Salisbury attack: Timeline of events

Jeremy Corbyn has warned against a "McCarthyite intolerance of dissent" after prompting fury from Labour MPs for raising doubts on Moscow's role in the poisoning of a former Russian spy.

The Labour leader said the "evidence points towards Russia" being responsible for use of a deadly nerve agent on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which has left the pair critically ill in hospital.

However he refused to condemn Moscow for the incident and later urged ministers not to "rush way ahead of the evidence", repeating controversial comparisons to the "dodgy dossiers" that led to the Iraq War.

It comes amid a shadow cabinet revolt as two frontbenchers broke ranks to say Russia bears full responsibility for the attack, and as backbench pressure ramped up, with nearly 20 Labour MPs backing a parliamentary motion "unequivocally" supporting Theresa May's stance.

Speaking on a visit to Carlisle, Mr Corbyn said: "I was extremely definite yesterday that I totally condemn this attack. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.

He added: "The evidence points towards Russia on this, therefore responsibility must be borne by those that made the weapon, those that brought the weapon into the country and those that used the weapon."

Mr Corbyn used a separate article in The Guardian to double down on his stance, saying: "To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security."

He said: “Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption... However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a ‘new cold war’ of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent.”

Repeating comments from his spokesman linking the case to the Iraq War, he said: "There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime.

"But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times.

"Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong."

Earlier, Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said Labour was "fully supporting the measures which the Government is taking including the expulsion of the 23 diplomats”.

Asked why Mr Corbyn had not said that, she told the Today programme: “Well some us perhaps speak in different ways, and perhaps I speak in a more plain speaking way.

“But he has made it very clear in the subsequent statement that we are fully supportive of the Government’s actions, because we accept what the Prime Minister has said and that Russia is responsible.”

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith also tweeted his support for a newspaper article that said Mr Corbyn was “eager to exonerate a hostile power”.

A survey for Sky News found widespread support for Ms May over Russia, with 69 per cent backing her compared to 31 per cent supporting Mr Corbyn's approach.

The Prime Minister shared a fist bump with a member of the public on a visit to Salisbury on Thursday as she visited the city for the first time to show her support for residents and emergency services staff.

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