John McDonnell says Jeremy Corbyn's response to Russia nerve agent attack was "misread"

The Shadow Chanclleor underlined that he does think Russia is to blame for the Salisbury nerve agent attack

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 18 March 2018 12:11
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John McDonnell: 'All evidence' points to Putin being responsible for Russian spy poisoning

One of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies has rebuffed accusations that he failed to take a tough line on Russia over the Salisbury nerve agent attack, claiming the leader’s position had been “misread”.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said it was the role of the opposition to offer a “constructive critique” of Government policy, but that Labour agreed with Theresa May that “Russia’s to blame”.

It follows a Labour row sparked by Mr Corbyn’s comments and subsequent briefings from his spokesman, which avoided directly blaming Moscow for the incident in which a Russian-made nerve agent was released in the English city.

Both Shadow Cabinet ministers and Labour backbenchers spoke out in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s words to differentiate themselves from his position.

But speaking to ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Mr McDonnell said: “It’s the role of a responsible opposition to ensure that they have an honest critique of the Government and what they’re doing.

“Support them when they’re right, that’s what Jeremy did, he said I support and condemn these actions, supported the Prime Minister on her conclusions.”

He added: “It is a constructive critique, I think others have misread that.”

Boris Johnson: We have evidence that Russia has been creating and stockpiling Novichok

Earlier in the week, Mr Corbyn failed to directly blame Russia for the attack during a debate in the House of Commons, while his spokesman raised question over the reliability of the Government’s interpretation of British intelligence.

In response, a group of Labour backbenchers laid an early day motion, a sort of parliamentary petition, setting out how they backed the Prime Minister’s approach and did blame Russia for the attack.

Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith did an interview in which she also said Russia was behind the incident, which left ex-spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer in hospital.

Clarifying Labour’s position, Mr McDonnell said on Sunday: “The Prime Minister is right, whatever they say Russia’s to blame, so now we’ve got to build, exactly as she is doing, the international coalition that takes effective action.”

He added: “There’s a pattern of people being murdered here, therefore it leads you to the conclusion that [Vladimir] Putin has questions to answer because this is highly likely this could have been a state execution.”

Mr McDonnell called for the introduction of an “oligarch levy” to strengthen the UK’s hand in imposing effective sanctions on Russia.

The levy would see a charge introduced against purchases of residential property by offshore trusts located in known tax havens – raising an estimated £875m a year according to Labour.

Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti also tried to present a united front when she appeared on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

She said: “I am here to make clear that I am completely at one, not just with Jeremy but with Nia Griffith, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer.

“We must condemn Russian responsibility, whether it is negligent or whether it is even more serious.”

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